Myanmar court jails US journalist for 11 years

A Myanmar military court has sentenced US journalist Danny Fenster to 11 years in jail.

Fenster was found guilty of breaching immigration law, unlawful association and encouraging dissent against the military.

He was earlier this week slapped with two additional charges of sedition and terrorism, which carry a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.

His trial on the new charges will begin on 16 November.

Fenster, 37, who was the managing editor of online site Frontier Myanmar, was detained at Yangon international airport in May. He is one of dozens of local journalists that have been detained since a military coup in February.

According to Frontier, Fenster had earlier worked for Myanmar Now, an independent news site that has been critical of the military since the coup.

“The charges were all based on the allegation that he was working for banned media outlet Myanmar Now. Danny had resigned from Myanmar Now in July 2020 and joined Frontier the following month, so at the time of his arrest in May 2021 he had been working with Frontier for more than nine months,” said the news site.

“There is absolutely no basis to convict Danny of these charges.”

His sentencing on Friday comes months after a Japanese freelance journalist was arrested in Myanmar and charged with spreading fake news.

Yuki Kitazumi, who was reporting for many of Japan’s major news outlets, was one of few foreign reporters in Myanmar. Myanmar authorities maintain he violated the law but released him because Japan had requested it.

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The US has pressed the military government to release him, but a military spokesman insisted that Fenster needed to be held in custody.

In a statement before the sentencing, the US state department commented that “The profoundly unjust nature of Danny’s detention is plain for all the world to see. The regime should take the prudent step of releasing him now”.

The US has not yet commented on the ruling.

Phil Robertson, the deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, told the BBC that the verdict was “a travesty of justice by a kangaroo court” intended to intimidate all remaining journalists working inside Myanmar.

Meanwhile, senior advisor at Crisis Group Myanmar Richard Horsey described the sentence as “outrageous”.

“It sends a message not only to international journalists… but also Myanmar journalists that reporting factually on the situation is liable to get them many many years in prison,” he told the AFP news agency.

He added that US diplomats were working to secure Fenster’s release but noted that “obviously this sentence is a big setback to US efforts.”

80 journalists detained in 9 months

Myanmar’s military leaders seized power in February after suffering a massive election defeat at the hands of the ruling National League of Democracy.

It claimed it had no choice but to orchestrate the coup because of widespread fraud in the poll, despite the country’s election commission saying there was no evidence to support these claims.

Read also: THISDAY disowns journalist paraded for raiding Odili’s home

News of the coup sparked off massive civilian demonstrations across the country, which the military dispersed with brutal force.

Since then, at least 1,178 people have been killed and 7,355 arrested, charged or sentenced in a crackdown on dissent, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP).

Around 80 local journalists are known to have been detained for their reporting so far. According to the AAPP, 50 of them are still in detention and half have been prosecuted.

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