Rights groups slam junta’s arrest of American journalist working in Myanmar

Danny Fenster, managing editor of Frontier Myanmar, was arrested Monday at Yangon International Airport.
Danny Fenster, managing editor of Frontier Myanmar, was arrested Monday at Yangon International Airport.

Press organizations and rights groups have condemned the arrest of an American journalist by Myanmar’s junta and called for his immediate release.

The Committee to Protect Journalists and other groups quickly slammed the military regime for arresting Danny Fenster, the 37-year-old managing editor of Frontier Myanmar, as he was leaving the country at Yangon International Airport on his way home to visit his family.

“This unlawful restriction of a foreign journalist’s freedom of movement is the latest grave threat to press freedom in Myanmar,” Shawn Crispin, the committee’s senior Southeast Asia representative, said in a statement.

Fenster’s arrest was first announced by Frontier Myanmar, which said it couldn’t establish contact with the detained journalist and said it wasn’t immediately clear why he was detained. He is believed held in Yangon’s infamous Insein Prison.

As of late Tuesday afternoon, the U.S. government had yet to comment on the arrest of Fenster, who is a native of Detroit, Michigan.

Fenster’s brother told the Detroit Free Press that his brother had been working in Myanmar for about two years.

“We’re just praying for his safety,” Bryan Fenster said. “We just hope he’s healthy, that he’s being looked after and that this mess is rectified as soon as possible.”

U.S. journalism advocacy group PEN America said the crackdown on independent reporters said Fenster should be allowed to leave the country immediately without charge.

“Dozens of Myanmar reporters have been arrested since the February 1 coup, and scores more are under threat,” the group’s director, Karin Deutsch Karlekar, said in a statement, adding that “as the COVID-19 pandemic continues, access to news and information is of the utmost importance.”

Fester is the fourth foreign journalist detained by Myanmar’s security forces amid a wider crackdown on the press.

In a world short of heroes, Myanmar embraces ‘Sasamania’

Dozens of Myanmar journalists have been arrested since Feb. 1 during newsroom raids and arbitrary arrests while they were covering anti-coup street protests. At least 40 journalists and photographers still remain behind bars across Myanmar, according to monitoring group Reporting ASEAN.

“Fenster is the latest among more than 70 journalists detained since February, simply for doing their jobs – reporting what they see,” the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand said in a statement. “Some have been charged under a law criminalising any comment or publication deemed by the military to undermine the world view or morale of soldiers or police officers.”

Other foreign media members arrested include U.S. citizen Nathan Maung of Kamayut Media, Polish freelancer Robert Bociaga and Japanese freelancer Yuki Kitazumi. Maung remains under arrest while Bociaga and Kitazumi were deported back to their respective countries. Kitazumi was arrested April 19 at his home and detained for a month before he was released and expelled from the country. He was previously arrested in February and released shortly after. He was the first foreign journalist to be charged under a law that criminalizes the spread of false news that causes “fear and alarm.”

Upon his arrival at Narita Airport, Kitazumi described how inmates at Insein Prison are abused, tortured and interrogated there and called on Japan to take immediate “concrete action” against the military regime.

Bociaga, a freelancer for German Press Agency DPA, was arrested in Taunggyi in Eastern Shan State while covering street protests. He spent two weeks in detention before he was deported back to Poland. He told the Associated Press that more pressure was needed on the junta to avert a “bigger tragedy.”


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