Burmese junta hands down 11-year sentence for US journalist Fenster

PHOTO: American journalist Danny Fenster has been sentenced to 11 years in Burmese prison. (via Myanmar Now)

US journalist Danny Fenster, the managing editor of Frontier Myanmar who was arrested while attempting to leave the embattled country in May has been sentenced to 11 years in prison. The military court found the 37 year old guilty of incitement and unlawful associations as well as immigration violations. While the court backed down so far on charges of terrorism and sedition that carried up to a life sentence, his magazine called the ruling “the harshest possible under the law” and US officials have called for him to be freed from what they described as unjust detention.

While the Burmese coup has prosecuted and jailed dozens of journalists, Fenster is the first Western journalist sentenced to prison since the military junta suspended 10 years of democratic growth in the country. The editor-in-chief of Frontier Myanmar, which has become a leading independent news source in the country, says that the charges lacked any merit.

“There is absolutely no basis to convict Danny of these charges. Everyone at Frontier is disappointed and frustrated at this decision. We just want to see Danny released as soon as possible so he can go home to his family.”

Fenster has been held since he was taken into custody leaving the country in May in the infamous Insein Prison in Yangon, and may still face punishment for the charges of violating the Terrorism Act and sedition that the junta added without explanation 2 days ago with some speculating that the journalist could receive up to additional 40 years in prison.

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The harsh punishment that Fenster was sentenced to is likely meant as an example and a warning to the media, the United States, and other possible opponents, according to the humanitarian group Human Rights Watch.

“The junta’s rationale for this outrageous, rights-abusing sentence is first to shock and intimidate all remaining Burmese journalists inside Myanmar by punishing a foreign journalist this way. The second message is more strategic, focused on sending a message to the US that the [military’s] generals don’t appreciate being hit with economic sanctions and can bite back with hostage diplomacy.”

The 11-year sentence in a trial that was closed to the public is still a shock as US officials and the journalist’s family have repeatedly advocated for him to be freed. The US Embassy has yet to comment, but the State Department harshly criticized the ruling as a transparently unjust punishment and called for Fenster’s immediate release. Amnesty International also chimed in, calling the ruling reprehensible.

The Burmese military coup has cracked down hard on journalists and the media in an attempt to control the flow of information. Internet and satellite broadcasts have been restrained, and Fenster is just one journalist among scores that have been arrested, though some were released in a recent amnesty in observance of a Buddhist holiday. Independent journalism in Myanmar has effectively been criminalized, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

SOURCE: Thai PBS World

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Neill Fronde

Neill is a journalist from the United States with 10+ years broadcasting experience and national news and magazine publications. He graduated with a degree in journalism and communications from the University of California and has been living in Thailand since 2014.

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