Danny Fenster verdict expected next week

A final verdict for three initial charges filed against detained American journalist Danny Fenster will be handed down early next week, according to his lawyer.

The 37-year-old journalist, who was arrested more than five months ago for allegedly inciting unrest against Myanmar’s coup regime, faces a total of five charges, including two, for sedition and terrorism, added on Tuesday.

In addition to the incitement charge under Section 505a of the Penal Code, he has also been accused of violating the colonial-era Unlawful Associations Act and the Immigration Act. A verdict on all three is expected on Monday.

“We have presented closing arguments for the [first] three charges. The judge scheduled November 15, this coming Monday, to give his verdict in all three cases,” said Fenster’s lawyer, Than Zaw Aung.

He added that the prosecution called a total of 13 witnesses to testify, while the defence team relied on the testimony of three witnesses and various documents to make its case.

Fenster faces up to three years in prison if found guilty of the incitement charge, which has been widely deployed against critics of the regime since it seized power on February 1.

A guilty verdict on the second charge, which was added early last month, would lengthen his sentence by another two to three years, while the immigration charge, added less than a week ago, carries a sentence of six months to five years.

The sedition and terrorism charges, under Section 124a of the Penal Code and Section 50a of the Counter-Terrorism Law, are both punishable by up to 20 years in prison. 

Fenster was working as managing editor of the Yangon-based publication Frontier Myanmar when he was taken into custody as he was about to board a flight to the US on May 24.

However, his lawyer later confirmed that his arrest was related to a previous stint with Myanmar Now, where he was employed as a copy editor from mid-2019 until July 2020.

In a statement released after Fenster’s arrest, Myanmar Now clarified that his work with the outlet ended seven months before it was banned for its coverage of the coup and called for his unconditional release.

Around 100 journalists have been arrested since the coup, at least 50 of whom are still behind bars, according to local press freedom advocacy groups.

Most are facing charges under Section 505a of the Penal Code for allegedly “publishing or circulating comments that cause fear, spread false news, or incite government employees to commit crimes.”

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