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Metro Detroit journalist remains detained in Myanmar

Danny Fenster on a balcony in Yangon
Courtesy of Bryan Fenster

Updated Wednesday, June 2, 2021 at 6:00 p.m. 

The Associated Press | A U.S. State Department official is calling for the immediate release of two American journalists who were arrested by Myanmar's military junta.

Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman called the arrests of Danny Fenster and Nathan Maung and other journalists an "unacceptable attack on the freedom of expression" in Myanmar.

About 90 journalists have reportedly been arrested since the army ousted an elected government and seized power in February, with more than half still in detention. Sherman made the comments in Thailand during her first overseas trip since taking office.

Original Post by Beenish Ahmed, Monday, May 31, at 1:32 p.m.

A metro Detroit native who has worked as a journalist in Myanmar for more than three years was taken into custody last week while boarding a flight en route to Detroit.

Danny Fenster is a Huntington Woods native who has been working in Yangon, the country's largest city, as the managing editor of a news site called Frontier Myanmar. His family has not heard from him since he was arrested on May 24, and fears he was targeted as part of a crackdown on journalists by a military regime that came to power in a coup earlier this year.

“He’s done nothing wrong,” said Danny’s brother, Bryan. “His arrest was for being a journalist.” 

Bryan said that he didn’t know of any specific threats made against his brother, and that he did not have reason to believe Danny had been trying to flee from harm. 

The military has detainedmore than 4,300 people and arrested dozens of journalists since wresting power from the democratically elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi on the first of February.

Bryan said that a colleague confirmed that Danny is being held at a prison notorious for torturing political dissidents during a previous period of military rule. Suu Kyi and members of her administration were among those detained at the prison. 

Danny Fenster (R) with his brother Bryan (L) and mother Rose (center).
Credit Courtesy of Bryan Fenster
Danny Fenster (R) with his brother Bryan (L) and mother Rose (center).

“He's a journalist in a country where the military wants to control the narrative and enclose the society essentially,” Bryan said. “So I am certain he was nervous, but he definitely has peers, the reporters that he worked with that have since left the country.”

Bryan says his brother’s natural curiosity and “concern for the underserved” led him to work as a journalist in Myanmar, first for an online news site called Myanmar Now, and then for Frontier Myanmar. Last year, he reported a story for Deadline Detroit about an Eminem-themed restaurant in a remote town that has become popular with backpackers.

Bryan Fenster said he’s been in frequent contact with U.S. Rep. Andy Levin (D-Bloomfield Twp.), in an effort to see Danny released through diplomatic negotiations. 

Levin, who represents the Fensters’ district in Washington, signed a resolution condemning the military coup in Burma and calling for the government to “allow for freedom of expression, including the right to protest, press freedom, and freedom of movement.” (The U.S. government still uses "Burma" in reference to the country officially. More on that here.)

In a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, the representatives echoed their call, adding, “We ask, respectfully, that you continue to act with urgency to see that Mr. Fenster is released immediately and unconditionally and allowed to travel freely. We stand ready to work with you to ensure his release and wellbeing.” 

Advocacy organizations, including PEN International and Amnesty International, have joined in condemning the attack on freedom of the press by the military junta.

The Associated Press is an independent global news organization dedicated to factual reporting.
Beenish Ahmed is Michigan Public's Criminal Justice reporter. Since 2016, she has been a reporter for WNYC Public Radio in New York and also a freelance journalist. Her stories have appeared on NPR, as well as in The New Yorker, Harper’s, The Atlantic, VICE and The Daily Beast.