Junta sentences American journalist Danny Fenster to 11 years in prison

A Myanmar junta court sentenced detained American journalist Danny Fenster to 11 years in prison on three charges on Friday, according to his employer. 

The 37-year-old journalist, who was arrested more than five months ago, was accused of inciting unrest against Myanmar’s coup regime under Section 505a of the Penal Code, as well as breaching Section 13(1) of the Immigration Act and Section 17(1) of the Unlawful Associations Act.

He was handed a three-year prison term for the incitement charge, another three years for violating the Unlawful Associations Act and five years for the immigration charge, as well as a 100,000 kyat (US$56) fine, Frontier Myanmar said in a statement on Friday.

“The decision was announced this morning at a court inside Yangon’s Insein Prison, following a trial that was closed to the public. The sentences imposed were the harshest possible under the law,” the statement said.

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.

The verdict for the three charges was initially expected on Monday, and is connected to allegations that he had been working for Myanmar Now—which has been banned in the country by the junta—after the February 1 military coup.

Both Frontier Myanmar and Myanmar Now previously clarified that Fenster had resigned from Myanmar Now in July 2020 and joined Frontier Myanmar the following month.

“The court disregarded a significant amount of evidence of his employment at Frontier, including tax and social security records and testimony from a Frontier employee,” the statement said.

Than Zaw Aung, Fenster’s lawyer, told Myanmar Now on Wednesday 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.

“There is absolutely no basis to convict Danny of these charges. His legal team clearly demonstrated to the court that he had resigned from Myanmar Now and was working for Frontier from the middle of last year,” said Thomas Kean, Frontier Myanmar’s Editor-in-Chief. 

Swe Win, the editor-in-chief of Myanmar Now and Fenster’s former employer, condemned the sentencing and maintained that the American journalist is innocent. 

“Danny has done nothing wrong at all. And Myanmar Now has done nothing wrong, either,” he said. 

Myanmar Now has learned that Swe Win and two other editors, Nyein Chan and Aung Shin, are also accused of the same crimes as Fenster.

“I view the sentencing as a sheer political kidnapping of an American citizen in the junta’s efforts to gain leverage in dealing with the United States,” Swe Win explained. “Danny now must be viewed as a hostage, and as such, the Biden administration has to send a clear and strong message to the junta for this senseless act.”

Earlier this week, two charges under Section 124a of the Penal Code for alleged sediton and Section 50a of the Counterterrorism Law were added to those against Fenster. The junta court will hear the two charges separately, according to his lawyer.

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