US journalist Danny Fenster jailed for 11 years in Myanmar, lawyer says

A US journalist has been jailed for 11 years in Myanmar, his lawyer has said.

A court in the military-ruled country sentenced Danny Fenster, 37, on Friday at the court in Yangon’s Insein Prison after finding him guilty on several charges including incitement for allegedly spreading false or inflammatory information.

Mr Fenster, the managing editor of the online magazine Frontier Myanmar, was also found guilty of contacting illegal organisations and violating visa regulations.

The hearings were closed to the press and the public while accounts of the proceedings have come from Mr Fenster’s lawyer Than Zaw Aung.

He said the journalist was sentenced to the maximum term on each charge and ordered to pay a 100,000 kyat (£42) fine.

Mr Fenster wept in court after hearing the sentence and has not yet decided whether to appeal, his lawyer added.

The 37-year-old 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.

Mr Fenster has been detained since May after being arrested at Yangon International Airport as he was about to board a flight to the US to see his family.

He still faces two additional serious charges in a different court for allegedly violating a statute covering treason and sedition and the counterterrorism law that is punishable by 10 years to life in prison.

Editor-in-Chief Thomas Kean said in a statement after the sentencing: “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. There is absolutely no basis to convict Danny of these charges.”

Much of the prosecution’s case against Mr Fenster appeared to hinge on his being employed by one of the media outlets, Myanmar Now, another online news site, that had been ordered closed this year.

Despite testimony from more than a dozen prosecution witnesses, it was never clear exactly what Mr Fenster was alleged to have done, and it appeared that he was judged guilty by association, his lawyer relayed.

Mr Fenster had left his job at Myanmar Now in July last year, joining Frontier Myanmar the following month.

Both Myanmar Now and Frontier Myanmar had issued public statements that Fenster had left the former publication last year, and his lawyer said defence testimony, as well as income tax receipts, established that he works for Frontier Myanmar.

The US government, human rights groups, press freedom associations and Mr Fenster’s family had pressed strongly for the 37-year-old journalist’s release.

“This long prison sentence against a journalist is a travesty of justice by a kangaroo court operating at the beck and call of the Myanmar military junta,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch.

“Danny Fenster has done nothing that should be considered a crime. This bogus conviction should be quashed, and Fenster should be immediately released and permitted to leave the country if that is what he wants.”

It comes as the military-installed government has cracked down hard on press freedom, shutting virtually all critical outlets and arresting about 100 journalists, roughly 30 of whom remain in jail.

Some of the closed outlets have continued operating without a license, publishing online as their staff members dodge arrest.

The army takeover was met by widespread peaceful protests that were put down with lethal force.

The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners has detailed the deaths of more than 1,200 civilians, in addition to about 10,000 arrests.

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