Myanmar detains American journalist for local news magazine

Frontier managing editor Danny Fenster was picked up at the airport in Yangon as he was preparing to fly to Malaysia.

Danny Fenster, the managing editor of Frontier Myanmar, was detained at Yangon airport on Monday [Courtesy of Frontier Myanmar]
Danny Fenster, the managing editor of Frontier Myanmar, was detained at Yangon airport on Monday [Courtesy of Frontier Myanmar]

Danny Fenster, the managing editor of Frontier magazine, is being held in Insein prison after being detained at Yangon airport as he prepared to leave on an international flight, the independent Myanmar magazine has said.

Fenster, who is from the Detroit area in the United States, previously worked for Myanmar Now, another independent news group. He is the fourth foreign journalist to be detained since the military seized power in a coup on February 1.

Freelancers Robert Bociaga, from Poland and Yuki Kitazumi, from Japan, were deported after their arrests. Nathan Maung, a US citizen who was picked up in a raid on his Kamayut Media office, faces “fake news” charges and appeared in court earlier this month.

“We do not know why Danny was detained and have not been able to contact him since this morning,” Frontier said in a tweet on Monday night. “We are concerned for his wellbeing and call for his immediate release. Our priorities right now are to make sure he is safe and to provide him with whatever assistance he needs.”

Myanmar’s generals have cracked down on reporting and online communication, and used increasingly brutal tactics against those who continue to protest against the coup. Independent local media have been ordered to close and about 80 journalists have been detained, roughly half of whom remain detained awaiting charges or trial.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), which promotes press freedom around the world called for Fenster’s immediate and unconditional release.

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

‘Stunned, confused’

The Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand also condemned the arrest and noted that Frontier and Myanmar Now had produced “courageous” original reporting.

“Particularly since the coup on Feb. 1, these organizations have made invaluable contributions to the world’s understanding of recent dramatic events in Myanmar,” the FCC said in a statement on its Facebook page, noting that some of the journalists detained had 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.

Fenster, 37, joined Frontier Myanmar in August 2020.

Dateline Detroit, a news website to which he was an occasional contributor, said he had been en route to see his family back home in the US when he was detained.

Frontier’s Chief Executive and Founder, Sonny Swe, told CPJ via messaging app that the United States Embassy was aware of Fenster’s arrest and was working on his case. Swe spent eight years in jail under former military generals for owning an independent newspaper.

Japanese journalist Yuki Kitazumi who was detained twice in Myanmar and accused of spreading false news’ was deported back to Japan earlier this month [File: Kyodo via Reuters]

“We’re absolutely stunned and extremely confused as to why Dan was detained,” Fenster’s brother, Bryan, said in remarks made available by Frontier Myanmar.

“We’ve been assured that there is no concern for his safety, but no doubt we are very worried.”

The US State Department said it was “aware of reports” of Fenster’s arrest.

“We take seriously our responsibility to assist US citizens abroad, and are monitoring the situation,” a spokesman said, while declining to provide further details for privacy reasons.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies

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