Myanmar court extends pre-trial detention of US journalist

In this 2018 photo, Danny Fenster works out of his van that he made into a home/office in Detroit. The parents and brother of an American journalist who has been detained in Myanmar for 100 days are vowing to never stop working to secure his release (Fenster Family photo via AP)

BANGKOK (AP) — A court in Myanmar on Monday extended the pre-trial detention of Danny Fenster, an American journalist in the military-led Southeast Asian nation who was arrested in May.

Fenster was detained at Yangon International Airport on May 24, as he was about to board a flight to go to the Detroit area in the United States to see his family. He is the managing editor of Frontier Myanmar, an online magazine based in Yangon, Myanmar’s biggest city.

“Danny’s next trial date is set for September 20,” said his lawyer, Than Zaw Aung. “The court held a video conference with Danny Fenster this afternoon and he is healthy, according to the clerk from the court.”

Fenster has been charged with incitement for which he could be sentenced to up to three years’ imprisonment. The charge against him does not make clear specifically what he is accused of doing.

Court hearings in Myanmar have been held by video for several months since a new wave of the coronavirus began ravaging the country. Lawyers do not take part in the video remand hearings but are informed afterward of their results.

Fenster has told his lawyer he fears he has COVID-19, though the authorities at Yangon’s Insein Prison have denied he is infected.

“We are very disappointed at the repeated delays in Danny’s case," Frontier's Editor-in-Chief Thomas Kean told The Associated Press. "Because of these delays he has now been in prison for more than 100 days and also had very little contact with his family or his lawyer. We know he has done nothing wrong and we are hopeful the case will soon be withdrawn so he can finally go home to his family.”

The military-installed government that took power in February in Myanmar — also known as Burma — has tried to silence independent news media by withdrawing their licenses and by arresting dozens of journalists.

“We remain deeply concerned over the continued detention of U.S. citizen Danny Fenster who was working as a journalist in Burma,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said last week after Fenster marked his 100th day in detention.

“Journalism is not a crime. The detention of Daniel Fenster and other journalists constitutes an unacceptable attack on freedom of expression in Burma. We continue to press Burma’s military regime to release Danny immediately. We will do so until he safely returns home to his family.”