(Reuters) – A court in military-ruled Myanmar sentenced American journalist Danny Fenster to 11 years in prison on Friday, despite U.S. government efforts to free him after he was arrested trying to leave the country months after the army seized power on Feb. 1.
Here are five facts about Fenster:
WORK IN MYANMAR
Fenster, 37, is the managing editor of online magazine Frontier Myanmar, one of the country’s top independent news sites. He previously worked for another publication, Myanmar Now, an outlet focused on investigative and longer-form reporting but was banned after the military seized power.
His brother has said he was a desk editor.
ARRESTED AFTER MYANMAR COUP
Fenster was detained on May 24 at the main international gateway in the city of Yangon while preparing to fly to Malaysia, the first leg of a trip back to his home state of Michigan, where he was planning to surprise his parents after several years away.
Authorities first charged him with incitement, violating immigration laws, and association with unlawful groups. Opposition groups in Myanmar including representatives of the deposed civilian government have been branded “terrorist” organizations by the junta.
The sentences handed down on Friday for those offences were the “harshest possible under the law”, his magazine said.
He faces additional charges of sedition and terrorism, announced earlier this week, each carrying a maximum 20-year sentence.
Fenster studied journalism in Chicago, where he connected with the Burmese community through his work at a refugee organisation, according to a profile in the Chicago Tribune.
He then worked at a newspaper in Louisiana before moving to Southeast Asia.
His brother has said he was drawn to Myanmar wanting to cover human rights issues including the expulsion of members of the Rohingya Muslim minority in 2017, a crackdown the United Nations has said was conducted with “genocidal intent”. Myanmar denies that.
U.S. DENIED ACCESS
Fenster is one of dozens of journalists arrested in Myanmar after the coup but the first foreign journalist to be sentenced since 2017 when several Singaporean reporters were imprisoned for flying a drone in the capital, Naypyitaw, but quickly released.
Fenster’s trial has been conducted in military-run courts inside the prison with no access for outside observers.
The State Department said in June he was being denied consular access to embassy staff.
His family has launched a campaign for his release.
The notorious colonial-era jail in which Fenster is being held in Yangon, Insein prison, has housed political prisoners in overcrowded and squalid conditions for decades.
Fenster’s lawyer, Than Zaw Aung, told reporters the prolonged imprisonment was taking a mental strain and that he was becoming depressed.
(Writing by Kay Johnson and Poppy McPherson; Editing by Robert Birsel)