More than 100 days after his arrest, metro Detroit journalist Danny Fenster remains imprisoned in Myanmar. His court appearance on Monday was like many others — short and ending with Fenster staying in prison.
Fenster, who grew up in Huntington Woods, had been living in the country for several years working as managing editor of Frontier Myanmar. Fenster continued to work even after the violent military coup in February, as his publication had not been shut down by the new regime.
He was arrested for incitement before boarding a flight back to the U.S. in May amid a crackdown on journalists. Following a military takeover earlier this year, the Southeast Asian country has been arresting journalists and pro-democracy dissidents.
Bryan Fenster, Danny’s brother, says the same process has played out for months.
“To our knowledge, it’s kind of gone the same way as all the others. They kind of meet for five minutes. They just sent him back to the prison for another two weeks and his next hearing is on the 20th,” he says.
If convicted, Fenster could face up to three years in prison.
Bryan Fenster says the endless cycle of court appearances and lack of action is tough to endure for him and his parents. There’s a lot of uncertainty that’s fueling anxiety for the family about what will happen to Danny the longer he is detained in a country facing a lot of turmoil.
“There are protests, the military opposition is starting to organize. The economy is crumbling, the COVID virus is running rampant in the country still, especially in the prison where Danny’s being held. He’s unvaccinated. There’s a lot of bumps in the road for any progress we’re making. And things just keep slowing down for us. It’s terrible,” he says.
They are still trying to stay hopeful, but “no matter how much you tell yourself this is going to take a while, you know you get absolutely crushed every time these hearings come and go,” he says.
“No matter how much you tell yourself this is going to take a while, you know you get absolutely crushed every time these hearings come and go.” –Bryan Fenster
The U.S. State Department and the Committee to Protect Journalists have been working to secure Fenster’s release. His next hearing is in two weeks.
Bryan Fenster says his brother is “a natural storyteller” and all he and his family can do is to keep telling Danny’s story. While they ultimately want Danny and his wife, Juliana (who has been in Myanmar this whole time) to come home, Danny is part of a larger story about the threat to democracy, his brother says. On Monday, the National Press Club announced that Danny Fenster is the recipient of the 2021 John Aubuchon Press Freedom Award, “which recognizes journalists who bravely push to disclose the truth in trying circumstances.”
“Context and history and truth are so important to him. And we’re really just trying to do right by him. … we keep talking about journalism and democracy in an informed and open society. … We realized Danny is, whether he likes it or not, the face of a larger story here with a threat to democracy, a threat to informed and connected societies. And journalism is an integral part of that.”