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Metro-Detroit native remains "unharmed" after a month in a Myanmar prison

Courtesy of Bryan Fenster

A journalist from metro-Detroit who has been detained at a prison in Myanmar for more than a month remains unharmed, according to a call with staff of the U.S. Embassy in Yangon who spoke to 37-year-old Danny Fenster by phone at the Insein Prison.

This news was relayed to his family by the Embassy. Fenster, a Huntington Woods native, has been held at the high security prison since he was detained at the airport on May 24, while waiting to board a flight that was to bring him back to Detroit after more than three years in Southeast Asia. 

"Thirty two days now and we can't imagine this hasn't taken a toll psychologically on him,” Fenster’s brother Bryan said in an interview with Michigan Radio on Thursday. “It seems like he is unharmed and he's managing, but we're still very concerned.” 

Fenster is being held under a section of Myanmar’s Penal Code that bans activity that “causes or intends to spread false news, knowing or believing that it is untrue” among other charges related to harm against the public or government, accordingto his employer, the online magazine Frontier Myanmar

The outlet said in a statement that no reason was given for the charge against Danny Fenster for the crime which carries a sentence of three years in prison, a fine, or both. 

"We have every confidence that he's been acting within Myanmar law,” Bryan Fenster said. “He's been adhering to the customs and policies that have been in place this whole time. And he has not committed any crime."

Fenster will appear in court on July 1, and his family is hoping that he will be allowed to have legal representation from the U.S. at the hearing. 

On Thursday, the Michigan House of Representatives adopted a resolution calling for the federal government to act with “utmost urgency” to advocate for the safe return of Fenster. 

“I am thankful my colleagues have joined me in calling for the Biden administration to act swiftly to pressure the Myanmar military government to ensure Danny’s safe return to his friends and family,” state Rep. Regina Weiss, a Democrat whose district includes Huntington Woods, said in a statement. 

The resolution followed testimony from Bryan Fenster and his parents at the Statehouse, as well as a meeting with Gov. Whitmer and Lt. Gov. Gilchrist. The Michigan State Senate passed its own resolution calling for the release of Fenster earlier this month.

Fenster is among more than 70 journalists who have been arrested in Myanmar since the military took power in a coup in February, accordingto an estimate from the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand.

*Correction: An earlier version of this story said that Danny Fenster is a native of Harper Woods. He is from Huntington Woods. The city has been corrected above.

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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.
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