Last Friday, Myanmar military-ruled court sentenced the U.S. journalist, Danny Fenster, to 11 years in prison with hard labour, the maximum penalty under three charges, despite calls by the United States and rights groups for his release.
It was the harshest punishment yet among the seven journalists known to have been convicted. Fenster, the managing editor of the online magazine Frontier Myanmar, was found guilty of spreading false or inflammatory information, contacting illegal organizations and violating visa regulations and still faces additional terrorism and treason charges under which he could receive up to life in prison.
The lawyer, Than Zaw Aung said, Fenster wept after hearing the sentence and has not yet decided whether to appeal.
The hearings on the three charges against Fenster were held at a court in Yangon’s infamous Insein Prison, where he is jailed.
U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price in a statement called Fenster’s sentencing “an unjust conviction of an innocent person.”
Price added, “The United States condemns this decision. We are closely monitoring Danny’s situation and will continue to work for his immediate release. We will do so until Danny returns home safely to his family.”
U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said Fenster’s conviction and harsh sentence “is emblematic of the wider plight of journalists in Myanmar who have been facing constant repression since the Feb. 1 military coup.”
According to Bachelet, at least 126 journalists, media officials or publishers have been detained by the military since the military seized power and 47 remain in detention, including 20 charged with crimes.
She said, “Journalists have been under attack since Feb. 1, with the military leadership clearly attempting to suppress their attempts to report on the serious human rights violations being perpetrated across Myanmar as well as the extent of opposition to the regime. Myanmar has quickly reverted to an environment of information control, censorship and propaganda seen under military regimes in the past.”
“I urge the military authorities to immediately release all journalists being detained in relation to their work,” she added.
Despite testimony from more than a dozen prosecution witnesses, it was never clear exactly what Fenster was alleged to have done, and it appeared that he was judged guilty by association.