A Myanmar court Thursday remanded American journalist Danny Fenster in custody for two more weeks.
The brief hearing was only the second for Fenster since he was arrested May 24 while trying to leave Yangon.
Fenster, managing editor of Frontier Myanmar magazine, was accompanied in court by a lawyer and officials from the U.S. Embassy in Yangon, but the hearing gave no clear indication of what he is accused of or when he may be released.
“We're not quite sure what's going to happen. What's frustrating is there doesn't seem to be rules for anything, or rhyme or reason for anything, except these hearings every two weeks,” Fenster’s brother Bryan told VOA on Thursday.
Late on Tuesday, he and Danny’s wife, Juliana, were able to speak with Danny for the first time since the arrest.
“(Danny) sounded way better than I was anticipating. He was more talkative,” Bryan Fenster said. “It was just a huge relief, because we've been in agony for, at the time, 37 days not having spoken to him.”
“There were a few lighthearted moments, too. We were cracking some jokes,” Bryan Fenster said. “Surely, he's suffering psychologically, but it was good to know he kind of still has his wits about him.”
Danny Fenster is one of at least 88 journalists detained since Myanmar’s military seized power in a February 1 coup, according to an unofficial tally kept by local media, The Associated Press reported.
On Wednesday, about a dozen journalists were freed as part of a wider release of about 2,300 people.
Nearly all the people released were detained in relation to protests, including under section 505(a) of the penal code, which criminalizes spreading comments that stoke unrest or spreading false news.
Some of the journalists told VOA that charges against them have been dropped.
AP cited Major General Zaw Min Tun, deputy information minister, as saying those released had taken part in protests but not violence.
Authorities have arrested at least 6,462 people since the junta seized power. As of July 1, at least 5,195 were still detained, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a Thailand-based nonprofit that monitors arrests in Myanmar.
One of the journalists freed Wednesday was Kay Zon Nway, a Myanmar Now reporter who spent 124 days in Insein prison after being arrested while covering a protest. She told VOA she believes calls from international bodies and sanctions led to the release.
“We heard there are a lot of pressure from the international community, as well as protests in the country, calling on the military to release detainees. I suppose we are released today due in part to such calls from the U.N., G-7 and the U.S., and the imposing of economic sanctions,” Kay Zon Nway told VOA.
Several Western nations have imposed diplomatic and economic sanctions, and the U.N. General Assembly on June 18 passed a resolution calling for an arms embargo and condemning the military's seizure of power.
The February 1 coup took place after the military contested a November election won by the ruling party.
Myanmar’s Ministry of Information released a statement this week saying it has warned foreign news agencies not to use the term, junta, or to “exaggerate the false news.”
The statement said the State Administration Council was in control because of a state of emergency and that the U.N. and other countries have recognized the council as the legitimate government.
Eri Kaneko, associate spokesperson for U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, denied that was the case.
In response to a question from VOA, Kaneko said Thursday, “The secretary-general has indicated that the outcomes of the November general elections, which have given a strong second mandate to the National League for Democracy (NLD), must be upheld.”
The U.N. said earlier Thursday that it was aware of the releases of political prisoners and reiterated calls for Myanmar to free all those arbitrarily detained, including ousted President Win Myint and state counselor Aung San Suu Kyi, who was also removed from office.
The president is accused of charges including breaching the constitution, while Suu Kyi is accused of corruption, inciting unrest and other charges.
“We remain deeply concerned at the continuation of violence and intimidation, including arbitrary arrests by the security forces,” Kaneko said.
Zin Thaw Naing, a journalist with news website Democracy Vision who was detained for three months, said the arrests of journalists and others could not be justified.
“Authorities arrested not only journalists but also whoever staged protests as freedom of expression,” Zin Thaw Naing said.
In Fenster’s case, his lawyer, Than Zaw Aung, told AP that the journalist has been charged in connection with his former job as a reporter and editor for Myanmar Now.
The news website is one of several outlets that were banned from publishing in March.
Fenster resigned from Myanmar Now a year ago, so it is unclear why he was arrested, the lawyer said.
At Thursday’s hearing, Fenster appeared to have lost weight but was generally in good health, the lawyer said.
Fenster’s next hearing is scheduled for July 15.
The U.S. State Department has said it is working to secure Fenster’s release. The journalist’s family have also been coordinating with state legislators to try to bring him home. Fenster’s hometown in the state of Michigan has rallied in support.
“We're small in numbers but loud in spirit, strength and voice, and our community has helped us tremendously,” Bryan Fenster said.
He added that his brother is being held in a cell on his own but is allowed to exercise and talk with others held in Insein prison. His wife has been able to drop off food parcels but is unable to visit.
Nathan Maung, an American journalist released and deported on June 15, and some of the journalists released Wednesday, described harsh conditions in prison.
Kay Zon Nway of Myanmar Now said she was in a cell with 60 other women and had no contact with family or access to outside information.
“There are many people in prison who should not have been arrested, innocent bystanders, children arrested together with their mothers and the elderly,” she said. “Those people did not commit any crimes. They should not be in jail.”
Despite her imprisonment, she said she will keep reporting.
Shwe Yee Win, who worked for the news website TimeAyeyar, also plans to continue. She had been jailed in the Irrawaddy region since February.
“I have no idea of why I have been arrested. I was simply doing my job,” she said, noting that only a few female journalists work in her region. “I am confident that I am not doing anything wrong. Therefore, I will keep working to uphold journalistic values.”
VOA’s Burmese Service contributed to this report. Some information is from the AP.