Fenster still faces two more serious charges, of terrorism and sedition, which were just added and have not yet been heard. They carry sentences of up to life in prison.
“The Burmese military regime’s sentencing of U.S. journalist Danny Fenster is an unjust conviction of an innocent person. The United States condemns this decision,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said Friday. “We are closely monitoring Danny’s situation and will continue to work for his immediate release.”
Fenster was seized at Yangon International Airport in May as he tried to board a flight to Kuala Lumpur and was taken to Insein Prison. He was working at the time as the managing editor of Frontier Myanmar, a news outlet focused on Myanmar.
On Friday, after a trial in a court inside Insein Prison that was closed to the public, Fenster was sentenced to 11 years on charges including a violation of the immigration act and the unlawful associations act. During the trial, the prosecution argued that official records did not accurately reflect where he was employed, as the ruling junta sought to establish that he was working for Myanmar Now, a different outlet that was banned in the country after the coup.
A statement from Frontier Myanmar said the court “disregarded a significant amount of evidence of his employment at Frontier, including tax and social security records and testimony from a Frontier employee.”
“There is absolutely no basis to convict Danny of these charges,” said Thomas Kean, Frontier’s editor in chief. “His legal team clearly demonstrated to the court that he had resigned from Myanmar Now and was working for Frontier from the middle of last year.”
Kean added: “Everyone at Frontier is disappointed and frustrated at this decision. We just want to see Danny released as soon as possible so he can go home to his family.”
Fenster is one of more than 100 journalists who have been detained since the coup. Several dozen remain behind bars, as the ruling Myanmar military seeks to silence all critical voices in the country. Newspaper offices have been raided and journalists have been driven out of the country, many seeking refuge in neighboring Thailand.
Frontier Myanmar is an award-winning news and business magazine, which publishes both in English and Myanmar. In October, the magazine announced it would be ceasing publication of the print edition for the foreseeable future and would temporarily suspend versions online and on social media platforms, citing a hostile climate for journalism in Myanmar.
Frontier Myanmar continues to operate through newsletters sent to subscribers.
Fenster’s family has repeatedly called on the U.S. government to secure his release. In a previous interview, Bryan Fenster, his brother, said Danny “cares tremendously about journalism as an art form but also the responsibility that comes with it to make the world a better place.”