Update: American journalist Danny Fenster, sentenced only days ago to 11 years hard labor in Myanmar, has been freed and is on his way home, per the AP. Former US Ambassador to the UN Bill Richardson said Fenster had been handed over to him in Myanmar and would return to the US via Qatar over the next day and a half. Richardson said he negotiated Fenster’s release during a recent visit to Myanmar when he held face-to-face meetings with Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, Myanmar's military ruler. Our original story from Nov. 12 follows:
A court in military-ruled Myanmar on Friday sentenced detained US journalist Danny Fenster to 11 years in prison with hard labor after finding him guilty on several charges, including incitement for allegedly spreading false or inflammatory information. Fenster, the 37-year-old managing editor of the online magazine Frontier Myanmar, was also found guilty of contacting illegal organizations and violating visa regulations, lawyer Than Zaw Aung said. The lawyer said Fenster, who was detained at Yangon International Airport on May 24 as he was about to board a flight to go to Michigan to see his family, wept in court after hearing the sentence, reports the AP.
He is the only foreign journalist to be convicted of a serious offense since the army seized power in February, ousting the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi. He still faces two additional serious charges in a different court for allegedly violating the counterterrorism law and a statute covering treason and sedition. The charges are punishable by 10 years to life in prison, and seven to 20 years’ imprisonment, respectively. Despite testimony from more than a dozen prosecution witnesses, it was never clear exactly what Fenster was alleged to have done.
Much of the prosecution’s case appeared to hinge on his being employed by Myanmar Now, another online news site, that had been ordered closed this year. But Fenster had left his job at Myanmar Now in July 2020, joining Frontier Myanmar the following month. However, the Information Ministry's records showed that Fenster continued to be employed this year by Myanmar Now. Both Myanmar Now and Frontier Myanmar issued public statements confirming Fenster left the former publication last year, and income tax receipts established that he works for Frontier Myanmar. The lawyer said the editor-in-chief at Myanmar Now apparently forgot to inform the Information Ministry of his resignation last year. (Read more journalist stories.)