US journalist hit with further charges in Myanmar

A U.S. journalist on trial in Myanmar on charges of working to oppose the Feb. 1 military coup that overthrew civilian rule in the country has been hit with additional charges that could see him spend the rest of his life in prison, his lawyer says.

Danny Fenster, editor of the online Frontier Myanmar news magazine, was arrested while trying to leave the country in May and was charged with unlawful association, violations of immigration law, and encouraging resistance to the military.

He faces further charges of sedition and terrorism under Section 24 (a) of the Penal Code and Section 50 (a) of the Terrorism Act, Fenster’s lawyer Than Zaw Aung told RFA on Wednesday.

“I only heard about this yesterday when a police officer reported it to the Western District Judge at the Pabedan Court in Yangon,” Myanmar’s former capital, Than Zaw Aung said. “The judge has set a date for [a hearing on] the two new charges,” he added.

Fenster’s lawyer said his client had initially been charged in connection with reports filed in Myanmar Now, a news outlet for which Fenster no longer worked when the articles appeared.

“But he said he had left Myanmar Now in August 2020, and [to prove this] he submitted his tax receipts from the government,” he said.

Fenster could face up to 50 years in prison if convicted of all five counts against him, Than Zaw Aung said.

Myanmar’s ruling State Administration Council may now be using Fenster for potential leverage in its dealings with the United States, analysts told RFA.

“Danny Fenster is an American citizen, and I think he is being held hostage because they want to have a bargaining chip with the U.S. government,” said Nathan Maung, a U.S. citizen and co-founder of Yangon-based Kamayut Media who was arrested and later released by the military following the coup.

“I think it’s really political,” agreed veteran Myanmar journalist Myint Kyaw, adding, “This looks like a hostage-taking scheme related to [Myanmar’s] relationship with the United States.”

Requests for comment by the U.S. State Department on Fenster’s arrest received no response, but a State Department spokesman on Wednesday told the AFP wire service that “the profoundly unjust nature of Danny’s detention is plain for all the world to see.”

Fenster’s family lawyer told RFA by email that his family is declining for now to speak to the media regarding the new charges filed against him.

More than 30 still held

More than 30 journalists arrested in Myanmar for reporting on the Feb. 1 military coup are still being held in custody following prisoner amnesties that many had hoped would see them freed, sources in the country say.

Many of the 34 denied release have been charged with defaming Myanmar’s military under Section 505 (a) of the Penal Code, while others have been charged under anti-terrorism laws over suspected ties with the opposition National Unity Government (NUG) or the local People’s Defense Force (PDF) militias set up to resist military rule, sources say.

Myanmar’s ruling State Administration Council has twice granted amnesty to detainees held for protesting the military coup, once on June 30 in a mass release that included 14 journalists and a second amnesty on Oct. 18-19 that saw 17 journalists freed.

Paris-based Reporters without Borders (RSF) ranked Myanmar 140th out of 180 countries in the 2021 edition of its annual World Press Freedom Index and singled out junta chief Snr. Gen. Min Aung Hlaing as among the world’s 37 worst leaders in terms of media crackdowns.

The country has fallen in position every year since it was ranked 131st in 2017.

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