Why was Danny Fenster detained in Myanmar? Military junta jails Michigan journalist trying to leave country

Why was Danny Fenster detained in Myanmar? Military junta jails Michigan journalist trying to leave country
Danny Fenster was reportedly stopped at the Yangon airport as he tried to board a flight out of the country (Handout by brother Bryan Fenster)

An American journalist working in Myanmar was detained by local authorities on Monday, May 27. Danny Fenster was reportedly stopped at the Yangon airport as he tried to board a flight out of the country. The 27-year-old US citizen hailing from Detroit, Michigan, works as the managing editor for Frontier Myanmar, a twice-monthly magazine in Yangon.

Reportedly, he has been transferred to Yangon's Insein Prison, a detention center where the ruling military junta has confined its political enemies. Fenster’s brother, Bryan Fenster, said he had been working as a journalist in Myanmar for nearly two years and at Frontier Myanmar for several months. He was detained as he tried to leave for a long-planned visit home.


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A protester makes a three-finger salute as others march on February 07, 2021, in Yangon, Myanmar. (Getty Images)

Why was Danny Fenster detained?

"Frontier's managing editor, Danny Fenster, was detained at Yangon International Airport this morning shortly before he was due to board a flight to Kuala Lumpur," the news organization said in a statement. "We do not know why Danny was detained and have not been able to contact him since this morning. We are concerned for his well-being 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.”

Bryan Fenster speculated about his brother’s detention, saying, “I can only assume being a journalist in a country that's run by the military who wants to control the narrative, he was flagged, being a journalist, when he was at the airport. Can't begin to imagine why it happened. He was on valid work papers, valid visas, passports, everything. He was voluntarily leaving the country to come visit family, so we can't see what the issue is."

Bryan also said that he and his family were working with elected officials in Michigan and added that the US State Department was aware of his brother's case. "We're very hopeful with all the support, we'll be getting him out as soon as possible," he said.

Protesters defend themselves with makeshift shields during clashes with riot police on February 28, 2021, in Yangon, Myanmar. Myanmar's military government has intensified a crackdown on protesters in recent days, using tear gas, charging at and arresting protesters and journalists. (Getty Images)

A US Department of State official said the agency was monitoring the situation. "We are aware of reports of a US citizen detained in Burma. We take seriously our responsibility to assist US citizens abroad and are monitoring the situation. Due to privacy considerations, we have no further comment."

Close to four months ago, Myanmar's military seized power in a coup on February 1, overthrowing the democratically-elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi and detaining government officials. A trend of security brutally suppressing protests across the country has followed. Silencing the country's media by revoking independent publishing and broadcast licenses, raiding newspaper offices, and targeting journalists for arrest has been part of this trend as well. Among the thousands of people detained since the coup are 85 journalists, including 48 still in detention, according to reports.

The Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand (FCCT) said in a statement that it was not clear whether Fenster had been charged with any offense. "The arrests of journalists and the violence used by the security forces on anyone caught trying to report or record their actions, constitute an extraordinary attack on freedom of expression in Myanmar, and should be widely condemned," the FCCT statement said.

“He’s a journalist who cares deeply about human rights and social justice, that’s what drew him to Myanmar,” his brother Bryan told the New York Times. Fenster’s Twitter was last active as recently as May 21. In the past few months, he had been tweeting about the political turmoil in the country with the hashtag #WhatsHappeningInMyanmar.

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