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American Reporter Detained in Myanmar for Committing Journalism

Clarence Page, Tribune Content Agency on

He was so close.

Danny Fenster was about to board a plane in Myanmar on May 24 to return home to Michigan.

Instead he was detained at Yangon International Airport, apparently for — as one of his former teachers at Columbia College in Chicago aptly tweeted — “performing acts of journalism.”

I say “apparently” because the military government that took over Myanmar during a coup in February simply hasn’t said why they took Fenster, 37, into custody.

That’s not unusual for this junta. In the country that the United States government still calls Burma, Myanmar’s military regime holds dozens of journalists behind bars, according to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, PEN America and the Assistance Association of Political Prisoners, a Burmese rights group.

Full disclosure, I’m a member of CPJ’s board, but this case jumped out at me because of Fenster’s connection to my beloved home base of Chicago. It also stood out because most of CPJ’s cases involve countries that have a lot fewer press freedoms than our constitution protects.

 

Cases such as Fenster’s remind me of how since-retired Tribune photographer Ernie Cox was detained by South Africa’s old apartheid government when we were there in 1976, the summer of the Soweto uprising. At least we had some leverage as journalists from a country that the white-minority government was trying to impress.

The Johannesburg cops let Ernie and his camera go with what almost sounded like an apology. Myanmar is not like that.

In Myanmar, the arrests of journalists has widened to include foreign journalists, including Fenster, managing editor of the Frontier Myanmar news site, and fellow U.S. citizen, Nathan Maung, a co-founder of the local news website Kamayut Media.

At least Maung has been formally charged with something: Article 505(a) of the penal code, which punishes the dissemination of information or “fake news” that could agitate or cause security forces or officials to mutiny, Maung’s family told CPJ.

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