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American journalist is detained by Myanmar regime while trying to leave country


Myanmars military junta detained an American journalist on Monday as he was trying to leave the country, the mans employer said, as the regime steps up a crackdown that has already forced many media workers to flee.

Danny Fenster, the managing editor of Frontier Myanmar magazine, was seized at Yangon International Airport as he tried to board a flight to Kuala Lumpur and was taken to Insein Prison, the company said in a statement late Monday. The prison is notorious for its poor conditions and has been used by Myanmar's military government to hold scores of political prisoners.

"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," the statement added.

Fenster, 37, is the fourth foreign journalist detained in Myanmar since the military seized power in a coup in February, deposing the civilian government led by Aung San Suu Kyi.

The military government routinely publishes lists of "wanted" journalists, accusing them of affecting "state stability," and has detained more than 70 journalists in total, according to media watchdogs.

Some 4,000 other people have been detained by the authorities in recent months, according to human rights advocates, as the junta has escalated a crackdown on those resisting the coup.

"We have been in contact with both the State Department and Embassy, along with local officials. While we are encouraged by the communication, we remain very concerned for Danny's well-being," Fenster's brother, Bryan, said in an email to The Washington Post. "Danny is a passionate journalist who cares deeply about the principles and integrity of his vocation."

Earlier this month, Japanese freelance journalist Yuki Kitazumi was released and deported to Japan after spending several weeks in Insein Prison. State broadcaster MRTV said it was releasing him "in order to reconcile with Japan and improve our relationship." He was accused under an amended law put in place after the Feb. 1 coup, which punishes anyone accused of spreading fake news or criticizing the coup with up to three years in prison.

Arriving back in Japan, he said many Myanmar prisoners were being tortured inside Insein Prison, deprived of meals and beaten for noncooperation, but he said he was able to escape this treatment as a foreigner.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. Embassy in Myanmar did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Tuesday. According to the Associated Press, the embassy said it was not able to provide details of the incident, citing privacy considerations.

Press watchdogs including Pen America and the Committee to Protect Journalists have condemned Fenster's detention and called for his immediate release and that of other journalists held in Myanmar. In a statement, the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Thailand pointed out that Fenster had worked for Myanmar Now before joining Frontier Myanmar, both outlets that have "produced courageous reporting of exceptional quality in recent years."

"The arrests of journalists, and the violence used by 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 statement added.

Published : May 26, 2021

By : The Washington Post · Shibani Mahtani