An American journalist imprisoned in military-controlled Myanmar has been criticized along with other criminal charges, but authorities have yet to give a reason for his arrest.
Danny Fenster’s lawyer, Thein Sawan Aung, said his client had been charged under the Illegal Associations Act. Feinster, managing editor of Yangon-based online news and business magazine Frontier Myanmar, had previously been accused of inciting the spread of false or provocative information.
In Myanmar, incitement is punishable by up to three years. Illegal associations have mostly been targeted against ethnic groups fighting for independence, but sympathizers and journalists who have contacted these groups have also been prosecuted.
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It is unknown at this time what he will do after leaving the post.
Asked about the reason for Fenster’s arrest last week, government spokesman Maj. Gen. Zhao Minton replied: “As far as journalists are concerned, if they only work as journalists, there is no reason to arrest them. Danny Fenster did more than work as a journalist.”
Fenster is one of about 100 journalists detained since the army’s February takeover. More than half have been released, but independent media are usually forced to operate underground or outside the country.
A judge announced the new charge during Fenster’s trial in Yangon’s Anas Prison on Monday, where he is being held, Thein Zhao Aung said. He said he was not given further details.
The new charge states that any person who “is a member of an illegal association, or attends meetings of any such association, or contributes or receives anything for the purpose of any association or Solicits, or assists in any way in any way. Such an association can be sentenced to two to three years in prison and a fine.
Fenster’s lawyers and colleagues have denied any wrongdoing. The US government and international media organizations have demanded his release. Fenster is one of a handful of foreign journalists arrested and the only one still in custody.
The list of nominated groups includes opposition opposition groups representing Aung San Suu Kyi’s ousted elected government. The National Unity Government and the Pedyangsu Halotao (CRPH), or committee representing parliament, were outlawed after the military seized power in February.
The Sochi government, while in power, also prosecuted journalists under the law.
“The Illegal Associations Act has an offensive history of being used to prosecute political activists and journalists,” Linda Lakdhir, Human Rights Watch’s Asia legal adviser, said in March. “By making the CRPH illegal, the Myanmar people are increasing the stakes not only for their members, but also for anyone who is supporting, writing, or just contacting this group.”
Thanzhao Aung’s lawyer said Fenster, whom he saw in Anas Prison, was in good health despite his previous claims that he was infected with Covid 19. The lawyer said he had applied for bail in a provocation case for Fenster.