“A rare victory for freedom of expression in Myanmar”


(New York, NY) — The release of journalist Danny Fenster, a U.S. citizen and managing editor of the independent Frontier Myanmar news outlet, is a rare victory for freedom of expression in Myanmar, PEN America said today.

“We are relieved and overjoyed at the news of Danny Fenster’s release, which comes at a time when journalists in Myanmar are facing wide-ranging threats and retaliation, including imprisonment, simply for doing their jobs,” said Karin Deutsch Karlekar, director of free expression programs at PEN America. “The charges levied against him were ludicrous and unfounded to begin with, the product of a penal system which uses a wide range of repressive laws to punish journalists and others who write and publish basic news, hard-hitting investigative reporting, dissident opinions, or criticism of the coup. We call on the military junta to halt its authoritarian crackdown on free speech in Myanmar, and urge authorities to release other unjustly detained journalists.”

Fenster, a U.S. citizen and managing editor of the independent Frontier Myanmar news site, was detained by Myanmar military authorities in May 2021 as he attempted to board a flight out of the country at Yangon International Airport. Held ostensibly in connection with news coverage published by Myanmar Now in March 2021, last week Fenster was given the maximum possible sentence of 11 years in prison on three separate charges for allegedly disseminating information that could be harmful to the military, violating the country’s Unlawful Association Act, and violating Myanmar’s immigration law. Fenster was previously a copyeditor and reporter for the Myanmar Now news site, but departed from the role in July 2020, seven months before the alleged offenses took place, according to official testimonyFrontier Myanmar had submitted extensive evidence to this effect to the court.

He was also facing two additional charges of terrorism and sedition under the Counter-Terrorism Act and Myanmar’s Penal Code, which each carry penalties of up to 20 years in prison. Fenster was released on November 15, 2021 after nearly six months in Myanmar’s Insein Prison, following months of backchannel diplomatic efforts to secure his release, including recent talks between junta military authorities and former U.S. diplomat Bill Richardson, who specializes in securing the release of individuals jailed overseas.

Dozens of other Burmese journalists and writers are currently in jail, detained under similar charges, including three writers who were arrested by military authorities on the day of the February 2021 coup, Than Myint Aung, Maung Thar Cho, and Htin Linn Oo, along with filmmaker Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi. Before the coup, Myanmar already ranked among the world’s top ten jailers of writers and public intellectuals, according to PEN America’s 2020 Freedom to Write Index. Since then, Myanmar has seen a harsh crackdown on media freedom, free expression, and the freedom to write, as summarized in Seven Ways Myanmar’s Military is Cracking Down on Free Expression in the Wake of the Coup. PEN America has been working since May on the campaign by Fenster’s family and other supporters to help #BringDannyHome.

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Mr. Sainey M.K. Marenah is a Prominent Gambian journalist, founding editor The Alkamba Times and formerly head of communications at the Constitutional Review Commission (CRC) and Communications and PR Consultant for The Gambia Pilot Program, under Gamworks. Mr. Marenah served as the Social media Strategist and Editor at Gambia Radio and Television Services. He is also the Banjul Correspondent for Voice of America Radio. Sainey is a human rights and developmental journalist who has carved a strong niche particularly in new media environments in the Gambian media industry. Mr. Marenah began his career as a junior reporter with the Point Newspaper in the Gambia in 2008 and rose through the ranks to become Chief correspondent before moving to The Standard Newspaper also in Banjul as Editorial Assistant and head of News. He is a household name in the Gambia’s media industry having covered some of the most important stories in the former and current government. These include the high profile treason cases including the Trial of Former military chiefs in Banjul in 2009 to 2012. Following his arrest and imprisonment by the former regime of President, Yahya Jammeh in 2014, Marenah moved to Dakar Senegal where he continues to practice Journalism freelancing for various local and international Media organization’s including the BBC, Al-Jazeera, VOA, and ZDF TV in Germany among others. He is the co-Founder of the Banjul Based Media Center for Research and Development; an institution specialized in research and development undertakings. As a journalist and Communication Expert, focused on supporting the Gambia's transitional process, Mr Marenah continues to play a pivotal role in shaping a viable media and communications platform that engages necessary tools and action to increase civic participation and awareness of the needs of transitional governance to strengthen the current move towards democratization. Mr. Marenah has traveled extensively as a professional journalist in both Europe, Africa and United States and attended several local and international media trainings.

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