American Journalist Held in Myanmar Faces 2 New Charges

Myanmar prosecutors have filed two new charges, terrorism and sedition, against the American journalist Danny Fenster, who was arrested in May as he prepared to board a plane out of the country, his lawyer said Wednesday. He faces up to 20 years in prison on each count.

The new charges come as Myanmar’s courts have begun giving maximum prison sentences to leading politicians opposed to the country’s military rulers, who seized power in February. On Tuesday, one ousted local government chief was given a 90-year sentence, and a former top state official got 75 years.

Mr. Fenster, the only American detained in Myanmar, is being tried on charges of violating the Unlawful Associations Act, of disseminating information that could harm the military and of violating an immigration law. The court is expected to issue a verdict next week on those charges.

Mr. Fenster’s lawyer, U Than Zaw Aung, said he learned of the new charges on Tuesday and was at a loss to explain them.

“I have no idea why they charged him with sedition and terrorism,” he said. A hearing on those charges is also scheduled for next week.

Mr. Fenster, the managing editor of Frontier Myanmar magazine, is being held at Insein Prison, long used by the military to detain political prisoners, and was suffering psychologically from the strain, Mr. Than Zaw Aung said.

“He is taking medication for depression,” the lawyer said, adding that “two more charges have made him even more depressed.”

Mr. Fenster’s family had hoped that he could be deported once the initial trial concluded, even if he were convicted. But now, with the added charges, his detention could extend indefinitely.

“We are as heartbroken about these charges as we have been about the other charges brought against Danny,” his brother Bryan Fenster said.

The regime’s decision to arrest Mr. Fenster stemmed from his previous employment as a copy editor at Myanmar Now, a hard-hitting news outlet hated by the military, even though he had left that job nearly a year before starting at Frontier.

The U.S. State Department has repeatedly called for his release.

The former U.S. ambassador Bill Richardson, left, met with Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing in Myanmar this month.Credit…Myanmar Military True News Information Team, via Associated Press

The former U.S. diplomat Bill Richardson, who has a long history of winning the release of prisoners from autocratic countries, met last week with the junta’s leader, Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing. But he said he did not raise the possibility of Mr. Fenster’s release because the State Department had asked him not to.

Myanmar’s ousted civilian leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, is on trial on 10 of the 11 charges she faces. A verdict on some of the charges is expected in mid-December.

Understanding the Chaos in Myanmar

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Myanmar is on the verge of civil war. Following a military coup on Feb. 1, unrest has been growing. Peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations have given way to insurgent uprisings against the Tatmadaw, the country’s military, which ousted the country’s civilian leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi is a polarizing figure. The daughter of a hero of Myanmar’s independence, Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi remains very popular at home. Internationally, her reputation has been tarnished by her recent cooperation with the same military generals who ousted her.

The coup ended a short span of quasi-democracy. In 2011, the Tatmadaw implemented parliamentary elections and other reforms. Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi came to power as state councillor in 2016, becoming the country’s de facto head of government.

The coup was preceded by a contested election. In the Nov. 8 election, Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi’s party won 83 percent of the body’s available seats. The military, whose proxy party suffered a crushing defeat, refused to accept the results of the vote.

Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi could face time in prison. She was detained by the junta and secretly put on trial. If convicted of all 11 charges against her, which include “inciting public unrest,” she could be sentenced to a maximum of 102 years in prison.

One of her longtime aides, U Win Htein, was convicted last month of sedition for publicly criticizing General Min Aung Hlaing, who he said acted “without thinking of what is right and wrong.” Mr. Win Htein, 80, who spent two decades in prison for advocating democracy under an earlier military regime, was given 20 years, the maximum sentence.

Similarly, the ousted chief minister of Kayin State, Daw Nang Khin Htwe Myint, was given a 75-year sentence after her conviction on five corruption charges. Her co-defendant, U Than Naing, a former municipal minister in Kayin, was convicted on six such charges and sentenced to 90 years.

Their defenders said the charges were trumped up because of their opposition to the junta. Their lawyer, Zaw Min Hlaing, said they denied any impropriety but would not appeal because they could not expect justice.

“If they appeal,” he said, “they will not be able to get a fair trial.”

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