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Editorial: Myanmar strongmen must free Danny Fenster


Danny Fenster left Detroit for Myanmar two years ago with the hope that his reporting could help nurture the fledgling democracy trying to take hold in the southeast Asian nation.

But a military junta in February overthrew the elected government, and now Fenster, a United States citizen, is in prison, along with an estimated 48 other journalists.

Fenster, 37, was detained at the Yangon International Airport as he was preparing to board a flight back to Detroit. His family in Huntington Woods has not heard from him since, and is unsure of his whereabouts. Some reports indicate he and other journalists are being held in Yangon's Insein prison, notorious for torture, and now filled with dissidents arrested during the coup.

The U.S. State Department is attempting to work with officials in Myanmar to free Fenster and another American journalist, Nathan Maung, who was arrested in March. There has been no cooperation.

The detention of Fenster and Maung is unacceptable. While state department officials have been allowed to hold a virtual visit with Maung, a similar visit with Fenster has not happened. Neither American has been made available to third-party observers to verify their safety and condition.

Fenster has not been allowed to talk with a lawyer or to U.S. consular officials. 

Certainly, the strongmen now in control of Myanmar have a right to expel Americans from the country if they choose. But it is a violation of international law to prevent the citizen of another nation from leaving without due process. 

Fenster, under international law, is not a criminal. He was simply doing the job he was hired to do — journalism. He was the managing editor of Myanmar Frontier, a highly respected publication. 

The new dictator in Myanmar, Min Aung Hlaing, has targeted the country's once-free press. Since ousting Aung San Suu Kyi, Hlaing has effectively banned journalism.

Soldiers have raided newsrooms and arrested reporters. Edicts have been issued banning "incorrect words" in publications and broadcasts. Many journalists are now in hiding.

The internal affairs of Myanmar are not the United States' business. But the safety of its citizens is.

The Biden administration must send a strong and clear message that the detention of Fenster and other Americans will not be tolerated. 

Fenster must be produced by Myanmar authorities immediately to verify that he has not been tortured, and the process of getting him back home must proceed without delay.