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Myanmar Junta Comments on American Journalist's Arrest 


Danny Fenster, the managing editor of the news website Frontier Myanmar, has been held in Yangon's Insein Prison since May 24. (Courtesy Fenster family)

A Myanmar military spokesperson on Thursday said that jailed American editor Danny Fenster was detained for activities that went beyond journalism.

Responding to a question from VOA Burmese, Major General Zaw Min Tun said, "We have to detain him under the present circumstance for the time being."

"As for journalists, if they do only journalist's work, there is no reason to arrest them," Zaw Min Tun said. "Danny Fenster did more than just what a journalist does."

The spokesperson, who made the comments during a press conference in the capital, Naypyitaw, added that the junta would disclose further information "when we can."

Fenster, the managing editor of the news website Frontier Myanmar, has been held in Yangon's Insein Prison since May 24. The journalist, originally from Detroit, Michigan, was arrested at the Yangon airport while traveling home to see family.

He has been charged with incitement, an offense that carries a prison term of up to three years.

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The journalist is due to attend his ninth court hearing Monday. At previous hearings, the court had repeatedly extended the journalist's pretrial detention.

Fenster's brother and his lawyer have both said the journalist appeared demoralized after the latest hearing, on September 21.

"His hair grew longer. He seemed disappointed, and he told me in a frustrated tone that 'I have nothing to say,' " the lawyer, Than Zaw Aung, told The Associated Press. "I asked him if he had been vaccinated by the prison authorities, and he said no. His words showed that he is not feeling well. He didn't request anything."

Fenster has previously reported having symptoms of the coronavirus.

At the news conference Thursday, the military spokesperson said that Fenster's "health is in good condition" and that he has access to a vaccination if he wants it.

But the journalist's brother Bryan said that when he last spoke with Fenster on September 22, "he did not sound well."

Danny Fenster is pictured with his brother Bryan and their mother, Rose. (Courtesy Fenster family)
Danny Fenster is pictured with his brother Bryan and their mother, Rose. (Courtesy Fenster family)

"[Danny] was very down and seemed over it, understandably. He has sounded generally 'upbeat' in the past, given the circumstances, so it was extremely difficult to have our words not be absorbed by him, let alone even finding the words to say to him," Bryan Fenster said in an email to VOA. "My parents were devastated and it's been a long week but we remain hopeful and press on to bring Danny home."

Family members did not comment on the military spokesperson's statement, but Bryan Fenster said they were eagerly awaiting Monday's hearing.

The U.S. State Department has said that it is closely monitoring Fenster's case and is pressing the military regime to release him. "We will do so until he returns home safely to his family," a spokesperson told VOA.

"Danny's detention, and that of so many others, is a sad reminder of the continuing human rights and humanitarian crisis facing the country," the spokesperson said. "We continue to stress that journalism is not a crime."

Dozens of journalists have been arrested alongside protesters and others since Myanmar's military overthrew the civilian government in a February 1 coup.

According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma), as of Thursday, more than 6,920 people have been arrested, charged or sentenced since the start of the coup.

The military also blocked access to social media and the internet in the first few weeks, and security forces check people's phones and social media posts, digital rights groups found.

VOA's Burmese Service, Jessica Jerreat and Nike Ching contributed to this report.

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