US demands immediate release of American journalist in Myanmar

The US has called on Myanmar’s military junta to immediately release an American journalist who was detained as he was trying to leave the country, saying it was “deeply concerned” about the matter.

Danny Fenster, the managing editor of Frontier Myanmar, an English-language news publication, was detained at Yangon International Airport on Monday before he was due to board a flight to Kuala Lumpur.

A US state department spokesperson said consular officers from its embassy in Yangon had not been allowed to visit Fenster in contravention of the Vienna Convention.

“The detention of Daniel, as well as arrest and use of violence by the [Myanmar] military against other journalists, constitutes an unacceptable attack on freedom of expression,” the spokesperson said.

The move by Myanmar’s military regime has raised tensions with the US as Washington has led international efforts to impose sanctions on the junta after it overthrew the government of Aung San Suu Kyi in February.

Frontier said Fenster had been transferred to Insein Prison, a notorious facility near Yangon known for housing political prisoners in poor conditions. 

“We do not know why Danny has been detained and have not been able to contact him this morning,” Frontier said. “We are concerned for his well being and call for his immediate release.” 

According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma), Fenster is one of two foreigners who have been arrested since the coup and remain in detention. 

Sean Turnell, an Australian academic who served as an economic adviser to Aung San Suu Kyi, was arrested and charged with violating Myanmar’s official secrets act. Yuki Kitazumi, a Japanese freelance journalist, was arrested and imprisoned in April, then freed and deported to Japan earlier this month.

Journalists, including those working for foreign outlets such as the BBC and Al Jazeera, have been among those detained by the junta, which has blocked social media sites and revoked operating permits for media groups in an effort to silence reporting on the post-coup civil conflict. Many have fled into hiding or exile to avoid arrest.

According to AAPP, 4,331 people who have been arrested since the military seized power are in detention or have been sentenced.

The US embassy in Yangon said it was unable to provide further details on Fenster “due to privacy considerations”. 

The Committee to Protect Journalists, a watchdog group, this week called on authorities to “immediately and unconditionally release” Fenster and allow him to travel freely outside the country.

“The unlawful restriction of a foreign journalist’s freedom of movement is the latest grave threat to press freedom in Myanmar,” said Shawn Crispin, CPJ’s senior south-east Asia representative. According to the group, more than 40 media workers are being held in Myanmar. 

Amnesty International said that Fenster’s arrest was “a reminder of how the media in Myanmar has been targeted for trying to expose the human rights violations committed by the military in this ruthless crackdown”.

Washington has imposed sanctions against coup leader Min Aung Hlaing and other senior military figures, as well as the companies they and members of their families control. 

The US in March ordered non-essential government personnel and their families to leave Myanmar as the regime’s crackdown on protests gained force. 

Follow John Reed and Katrina Manson on Twitter at @JohnReedwrites and @KatrinaManson

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