Detained American journalist Danny Fenster hit with new charge under Immigration Act

Danny Fenster, an American journalist detained since his arrest at Yangon’s international airport more than five months ago, now faces an additional charge under Myanmar’s Immigration Act, according to his lawyer.

Fenster was initially charged with incitement under Section 505a of the Penal Code, but had another charge, under the colonial-era Unlawful Associations Act, added last month.

His lawyer Than Zaw Aung said that the latest charge, under Section 13(1) of the Immigration Act, which deals with illegal entry or overstay in the country, was laid during a court hearing on Wednesday. 

He added that he was unsure what the 37-year-old American is alleged to have done to violate the law, as he was still studying the case file. The offense carries a sentence of six months to five years in prison.

Fenster has been held in Yangon’s Insein Prison since May 24, when he was arrested for allegedly spreading false information with the intent to incite violence. He faces up to three years in prison if found guilty.

The other charge against him, under Section 17(1) of the Unlawful Associations Act, is related to Fenster’s work with Myanmar Now prior to the February 1 coup, his lawyer confirmed last month. A guilty verdict in that case could result in a sentence of up to three years in prison.

According to Than Zaw Aung, Fenster appeared to be holding up well during the hearing on Wednesday, during which he was also denied a request for release on bail in the incitement case.   

“He seemed to be in good health, but he has lost some weight. He said he was disappointed that more charges had been laid against him,” the lawyer told Myanmar Now.

Fenster was working as managing editor of the Yangon-based publication Frontier Myanmar when he was arrested as he was about to board a flight to the US to visit his family. 

He previously worked as a copy editor for Myanmar Now from mid-2019 until July 2020. He has had no association with the outlet since its publishing license was rescinded by the regime for its coverage of the coup.

After the US State Department requested Fenster’s release, junta spokesperson Maj-Gen Zaw Min Tun responded at a September 30 press conference that he was “being held because he needed to be”.

Earlier this week, the VOA Burmese-language service reported that Fenster was expected to be released “soon” following mediation efforts by Yohei Sasakawa, Japan’s special envoy to Myanmar and the chair of the Nippon Foundation.

Around 100 journalists have been arrested since the coup. While some have been released, at least 50 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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