It's been 100 days since journalist Danny Fenster was detained in Myanmar and he still hasn't been charged

click to enlarge Journalist Danny Fenster's family holds photographs of him at their Huntington Woods home. - KELLEY O'NEILL
Kelley O'Neill
Journalist Danny Fenster's family holds photographs of him at their Huntington Woods home.

On May 24, journalist Danny Fenster was detained by authorities in Yangon, Myanmar, while trying to board a plane to make his way back home to Michigan for a surprise visit to his family — for no reason, apparently, other than he happened to be working as a journalist in a country that had just been taken over by an authoritarian regime in a coup d'état.

Now, 100 days later, Fenster remains behind bars, yet he still hasn't been formally charged with any crime.

"It started as a surprise," Fenster's mother Rose said during a press conference Tuesday. "That quickly ended and turned into shock, disbelief, so many emotions — sadness, depression, hope, community. It's been a tough 100 days."

While contact with Fenster has remained limited — on a few occasions, authorities in Myanmar allowed Fenster to briefly speak to his family in a primitive fashion by holding up two cell phones together — his family is concerned because they believe he has fallen ill with COVID-19 as the pandemic ravages the country. Though he has not been officially tested for the virus, Fenster told his family he was experiencing COVID-19 symptoms.

"We last were able to speak with Danny on August 1, and he stated to us that he most probably did have COVID and still was having some brain fog, loss of sense of taste and smell, some fatigue," Rose said.

The family demands that Fenster is provided access to an in-person consul, as required by the Vienna Convention.

After growing up in metro Detroit and graduating from Chicago's Columbia College and Detroit's Wayne State University, Fenster's career eventually took him to Myanmar, where he was working as an editor for Frontier Myanmar, editing the English-language section of the publication.

On Feb. 1, Myanmar's military removed its democratically elected leaders, alleging without evidence that the country's 2020 general election was invalid due to voter fraud, and launching a crackdown on "fake news." In court documents, the junta said Fenster was detained because of his previous work with an online outlet called Myanmar Now, but Frontier Myanmar said he resigned from Myanmar Now in July 2020, months before the coup.

Fenster's case has received bipartisan support from elected officials and has sparked a #BringDannyHome campaign that features Fenster's likeness emblazoned on T-shirts and yard signs. High-profile celebrities like U2's Bono and Rage Against the Machine's Tom Morello have also voiced their support for Fenster.

"The creativity of this family is a powerful force, something that you don't often see in this world," said U.S. Rep. Andy Levin, a Democrat who represents the Fensters' hometown of Huntington Woods. "We will get Danny out because this family will not give up, and their openness to every idea, and their drive to get it done."

Fenster is one of more than 70 reporters detained in Myanmar. His family said that they remain in contact with high-level officials in the Biden administration who are working to free him.

"You know it's 100 days and he's not home, which is frustrating, but we know that at the highest levels, this is a top priority and resources are being used to secure his release," Fenster's brother Bryan said.

He added, "There's no way we're just gonna sit here and let it work itself out. You know, we're fighting for him. The world needs to know about him, not just who he is as a person but this broader story about press freedoms and democracy, and open societies. This is one very small part of that."

Fenster's next hearing is scheduled for Sept. 6, and while previous hearings haven't resulted in any movement on his case — so far they have been perfunctory, and ever since the recent COVID-19 surge they have been held via video conference — Fenster's family is hopeful for good news.

On a positive note, Fenster was named a 2021 John Aubuchon Press Freedom Award honoree by the National Press Club. Fenster will be honored during the NPC's annual Fourth Estate Award Gala on Oct. 20 in Washington, D.C., along with Haze Fan, a Chinese journalist who was arrested while working for Bloomberg.

The family hopes Fenster will be able to receive the award in person.

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About The Author

Lee DeVito

Leyland "Lee" DeVito grew up in the suburbs of Detroit, where he read Metro Times religiously due to teenaged-induced boredom. He became a contributing writer for Metro Times in 2009, and Editor in Chief in 2016. In addition to writing, he also supplies occasional illustrations. His writing has been published...
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