Myanmar court frees one of two detained US journalists

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BANGKOK (AP) — A court in Myanmar has released U.S. journalist Nathan Maung, who was arrested three months ago while working for a local online news agency, his lawyer said Monday.

Maung was released after charges against him were dropped and his case dismissed, and he will be deported on Tuesday, lawyer Tin Zar Oo said. However, a colleague at Kamayut Media who was arrested with him, Myanmar national Hanthar Nyein, remains in prison, she said.

Another American journalist working for a news magazine in Myanmar, Danny Fenster, also remains incarcerated. Fenster is managing editor of Frontier Myanmar, which publishes in both English and Burmese and also online. He was detained at Yangon's airport on June 24 as he was preparing to board a flight to Malaysia en route to the Detroit area to see his family.

Myanmar's military junta, which seized power in February after ousting the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi, has faced broad opposition to its rule and seeks to quell all dissent. Critical media voices have been forced underground or into exile.

According to Myanmar’s Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, about 90 journalists have been arrested since the army’s takeover, with more than half still in detention, and 33 in hiding.

The U.S. government and rights groups have urged the junta to respect freedom of expression and stop harassment and arrests of journalists. It pressed repeatedly for the release of Maung and Fenster.

Two other foreign journalists have been arrested by the junta. Freelancers Robert Bociaga of Poland and Yuki Kitazumi of Japan have since been deported.

Maung, the Kamayut website’s editor-in-chief, and Hanthar Nyein, a news producer, were arrested on March 9. They were held at a military interrogation center in Yangon, Myanmar’s biggest city, before being transferred to Insein Prison, the country’s main detention facility for political prisoners.

The two men, who co-founded the news outlet, were charged under a section of the penal code that punishes “dissemination of information or ‘fake news’ that could agitate or cause security forces or officials to mutiny” with a maximum three-year prison term, according to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists.

Tin Zar Oo said Nathan Maung is being held an extra day for a COVID-19 test before taking a flight out of the country on Tuesday. She said he is able to reclaim most of his belongings, but that $1,600 and about $4,250 in Myanmar's currency are missing.