A court in Myanmar extended the detention of American journalist Danny Fenster for another two weeks Thursday, while the U.S. State Department urged that it be granted consular access to him.
Online news and business magazine Frontier Myanmar, where Fenster is managing editor, said he faces a charge that carries a potential three-year prison term.
The charge, used frequently against dissidents and journalists, criminalizes “any attempt to cause fear, spread false news, or agitate directly or indirectly a criminal offense against a government employee.” The magazine said it did not know the reason for the charge.
Myanmar's military government has tried to silence independent news media by withdrawing the licenses they must obtain to publish or broadcast and by arresting journalists.
According to Myanmar’s Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, about 90 journalists have been arrested since the army seized power in February and more than half of them are still detained.
The special court at Insein Prison in Yangon ordered Fenster’s continued detention there for two weeks, scheduling his next hearing for July 1.
Myanmar authorities have not allowed U.S. Embassy officials access to Fenster, State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters in Washington He urged them to grant access under the Vienna Convention "without delay and to ensure proper treatment of Danny."
Price said the State Department was “very gratified” by the release of another U.S. journalist, Nathan Maung, who had been arrested on a similar charge in March while working for a local news online news agency in Myanmar.
Maung was deported Tuesday after the charge against him was dropped and his case dismissed, though a colleague at Kamayut Media who was arrested with him, Myanmar citizen Hanthar Nyein, remains imprisoned. Price said Maung has met and spoken with senior State Department officials since his return.
Frontier said Fenster was represented by a lawyer in court Thursday but the magazine's representatives were not permitted to attend. “We are still seeking information on the reason for Danny’s arrest and continued detention," Frontier said in its statement.
Fenster, 37, was detained at Yangon International Airport on May 24 as he was trying to board a flight to go to the Detroit area to see his family.
Two Myanmar journalists who were arrested more than a month ago were released Thursday, the wife of one of them said.
Voice of Myanmar Editor-in-Chief Nay Myo Lin and reporter Shine Aung were arrested on April 27 when they obeyed an order to report themselves for questioning about articles judged to be anti-military.
Both returned to their homes after they were released when the cases against them were dropped, said Zarni Mann, who is Nay Myo Lin’s wife. Voice of Myanmar, an online news service suspended operations following their arrests.
“We have said that journalism is not a crime. But not only Nay Myo Lin but also many other journalists have been prosecuted and detained in the prisons. I want all other detained journalists to be released, just like Nay Myo Lin,” said Zarni Mann.
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