BANGKOK (AP) — Testimony by prosecution witnesses on Friday in the case of Danny Fenster, a U.S. journalist who has been detained in Myanmar for more than five months, established that official records did not accurately reflect where he was employed, his lawyer said.
The point may be crucial because it appears that Fenster is being prosecuted for alleged offenses by a news outlet at least seven months after he stopped working for the outlet. Authorities have not clearly described what Fenster is accused of doing and his trial is closed to the media and the public.
Fenster was detained at Yangon International Airport May 24 as he was about to board a flight to go to the Detroit area in the United States to see his family. He is the managing editor of Frontier Myanmar, an online news magazine based in Yangon, Myanmar’s biggest city.
He has been charged with incitement for allegedly spreading false or inflammatory information, an offense punishable by up to three years in prison.
Fenster was also accused of violating the Unlawful Associations Act for contacting opposition groups that were declared illegal by Myanmar’s military-installed government. The offense carries a penalty of two to three years' imprisonment.
An additional charge of violating visa conditions that is punishable by six months to five years' imprisonment was added this week.
Fenster’s lawyer, Than Zaw Aung, said prosecution witnesses, including police officers, testified under cross-examination on Friday that a letter from the Information Ministry declared that the publishing license of Myanmar Now, another online news site, contained Fenster’s name in its list of editors. The license was originally valid for a period lasting from 2015 to 2025.
Both Myanmar Now and Frontier Myanmar have issued statements saying that Fenster worked as a reporter and copy editor for Myanmar Now until July 2020 and that he joined Frontier Myanmar the following month.
“The witnesses said that Danny is in charge of Myanmar Now according to a letter from the Information Ministry. They testified in this way as Danny’s name is included in a letter sent by the Information Ministry. I don’t know why his name is on the list,” Than Zaw Aung told The Associated Press.
Last month, the judge said Fenster had been sought in connection with activities by Myanmar Now together with its chief editor, Ko Swe Win, according to Fenster’s lawyer.
The judge also told Fenster that after Myanmar Now's license was revoked in March of this year, the news outlet defied authorities by continuing to post stories about organizations opposed to the military takeover, Fenster's lawyer said.
Fenster is among about 100 journalists who have been detained since February, when the military ousted the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi. About 30 remain in jail.
In Washington, U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price urged Myanmar’s government on Thursday to immediately release Fenster.
"His detention, the detention of so many others, it’s a sad reminder of the continuing human rights and humanitarian crisis facing the country of Burma, facing the Burmese, but also facing foreign nationals, including Americans, who happen to be in Burma.” Price said, referring to Myanmar by its old name.
This version corrects that the visa violation charge was added this week, not last month.