U.S. journalist sentenced to 11 years in Myanmar jail

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A court in military-ruled Myanmar on Friday sentenced detained U.S. journalist Danny Fenster to 11 years in prison with hard labour after finding him guilty on several charges, including incitement, for allegedly spreading false or inflammatory information.

Fenster, the 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. He was sentenced to the maximum term on each charge and ordered to pay a 100,000 kyat (approximately $71 Cdn) fine.

Than Zaw Aung said Fenster wept in court after hearing the sentence and had not yet decided whether to appeal. He is the only foreign journalist to be convicted of a serious offence since the army seized power in February, ousting the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi.

Fenster has been detained since May. He still faces two additional serious charges in a different court for allegedly violating the counterterrorism law and a statute covering treason and sedition.

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

Detained since May

Fenster was detained at Yangon International Airport on May 24 as he was about to board a flight to go to the Detroit area in the United States to see his family.

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 licence, publishing online as 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. Armed resistance has since spread, and United Nations experts and other observers fear the incipient insurgency could slide into civil war.

Fenster’s next challenge is the two additional charges that his lawyer said Monday had been filed in a different court in Yangon.

Than Zaw Aung said that one of the new charges comes under a section of the Counterterrorism Act that is punishable with a prison term from 10 years to life. The military-installed government has said it would apply the law harshly in cases involving opposition organizations it has officially deemed “terrorist” groups.” Involvement can include contacting such groups or reporting their statements.

The other charge is under the penal code and is usually referred to as treason or sedition. It carries a penalty of seven to 20 years’ imprisonment.

The hearings on the original three charges were held at the court in Yangon’s Insein Prison, where Fenster is jailed. They were closed to the press and the public. Accounts of the proceedings have come from Fenster’s lawyer.

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

Much of the prosecution’s case appeared to hinge on his being employed by one of the media outlets, Myanmar Now, that had been ordered closed this year. But Fenster had left his job at Myanmar Now in July last year, joining Frontier Myanmar the following month.



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