More than a month ago, on May 24, a 37-year-old journalist from the U.S. was detained and thrown in jail, without access to a lawyer or even granted a phone call.
Danny Fenster hadn’t been charged criminally at the time. He was taken into custody from the Yangon International Airport as he was trying to board a flight to the Detroit area to see his family.
And now, Fenster faces a charge that carries a potential three-year prison term, according to online news and business magazine Frontier Myanmar, where Fenster is managing editor.
The charge, used frequently against dissidents and journalists, criminalizes “any attempt to cause fear, spread false news, or agitate directly or indirectly a criminal offense against a government employee.”
The magazine said it did not know the reason for the charge.
Myanmar’s military government has tried to silence independent news media by withdrawing the licenses they must obtain to publish or broadcast and by arresting journalists. According to Myanmar’s Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, about 90 journalists have been arrested since the army seized power in February, and more than half of them are still detained.
The special court handling Fenster’s case scheduled his next hearing for this Thursday.
Fenster still hasn’t had any contact with his family, although he has been able to take a call with the U.S. embassy.
Zak Rosen, host of “The Best Advice Show” and a longtime friend of the Fenster family, spoke with Danny’s parents and brother ahead of this next hearing.
Is there something people say that they find helpful? Is there something you shouldn’t say to a family in a time of grief or extreme stress? Sometimes, it seems people don’t know how to engage with others who are suffering a tragedy.
“Some people walk toward you with the right words, and some walk toward you with ... they don’t know what to say,” said Rose Fenster, Danny’s mother. “And it might agitate you, but you got to realize that they’re coming from a space of love, and trying to hold a space for you, of love. But people also need to realize that, sometimes, in these situations, you don’t have to say anything. Just be present, and a hug or a look is helpful, if you don’t know the right words.”
Danny’s father echoed that sentiment, saying that just being present, calling, and doing the simple things has made all the difference.
Some people say some version of, “I don’t know what I’d do. I’d be losing my mind.”
It’s true, Bud Fenster said. No one knows.
“I’m not losing my mind,” he told Rosen. “I’m angry at the unfairness of it. But, I mean, it’s a parent knee-jerk reaction to say something like that. I don’t know if I’m gaining anything from it or not. ... No one prepares for this kind of thing.”
Bud added, the meals have been nice, but don’t feel like you need to bring food or do any over-the-top gestures. Just sitting down and talking for a few minutes is really nice. It doesn’t even have to be about what’s currently happening with Danny.
Rose mentioned she’s received some text messages that say something to the effect of, “Sending love and prayers. No reply needed.” She’s appreciated that, because it can be hard to keep up with everyone. You can listen to the podcast episode below to hear more from the Fenster family. It’s about 7 minutes in length, so, a quick listen.
The State Department was encouraged by the release of another U.S. journalist, Nathan Maung, who had been arrested on a similar charge in March while working for a local news online news agency in Myanmar.
Maung was deported earlier this month after the charge against him was dropped and his case dismissed, though a colleague who was arrested with him, Myanmar citizen Hanthar Nyein, remains imprisoned.
When Fenster was last in court, he was represented by a lawyer, but Frontier said the magazine’s representatives were not permitted to attend.
“We are still seeking information on the reason for Danny’s arrest and continued detention,” Frontier said in its statement.
How you can help:
1. Post about Fenster’s story on social media. (This article is a great place to start!) Use the hashtag #BringDannyHome.
4. Follow this website for updates.
With information from The Associated Press.