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Myanmar court sentences U.S. journalist to 11 years in jail

BANGKOK — A court in military-ruled Myanmar on Friday sentenced detained U.S. journalist Danny Fenster to 11 years in prison after finding him guilty on several charges including incitement for allegedly spreading false or inflammatory information.

Fenster was also found guilty by Than Zaw Aung of violating visa regulations and contacting illegal organisations.

Fenster was detained in May. Fenster is still facing two additional charges in a different court. These are for allegedly violating the antiterrorism law and a statute that covers treason as well as sedition.

Fenster was detained at Yangon International Airport on 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 only foreign journalist who has been convicted for a serious offense since February when the army overthrew the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi.

Frontier Myanmar magazine, where Fenster is the managing editor, stated that it was “deeply disappointed in this decision.”

In a statement, the magazine said that the charges were based on the allegation that Fenster was still working at Myanmar Now, an independent news outlet banned by the military after the Feb. 1 coup, when in fact he had left months earlier and joined Frontier. According to the statement, the court “disregarded significant evidence” that Fenster had worked for the magazine.

“There’s no evidence to convict Danny for these charges,” Thomas Kean (the magazine’s editor in chief) stated in the statement.

American Journalist Danny Fenster. Fenster Family / AFP – Getty Images

The military-installed government has cracked down hard on press freedom, shutting virtually all critical outlets and arresting about 100 journalists, roughly 30 of whom remain in jail. Some closed outlets continue to operate without a license and publish online while their staff avoid arrest. The army’s takeover was met with peaceful protests and then dealt with using lethal force. The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners has detailed the deaths of more than 1,200 civilians, in addition to about 10,000 arrests. Since then, armed resistance has spread and U.N. experts as well as other observers worry that civil war could result from the incipient rebellion.

Fenster’s next challenge is the two additional charges that his lawyer said Monday had been filed in a different court in Yangon.

Than Zaw Aung said one of the new charges comes under a section of the Counterterrorism Act that is punishable by from 10 years to life in prison. The military-installed government has said it would apply the law harshly in cases involving opposition organizations it has deemed to be “terrorist.”

The other charge under the penal code is usually referred to as treason or sedition, and carries a penalty of seven to 20 years’ imprisonment.

The hearings on the original three charges have been held at the court in Yangon’s Insein Prison, where Fenster is jailed. They were closed to the media and the public. Fenster’s lawyer has provided accounts of the proceedings.

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