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Myanmar detains American journalist as he tries to leave country

Danny Fenster is among 70 journalists held in the wake of the coup that overthrew the country's government, the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand says.
Protesters holding the Myanmar Student Union flag during a demonstration against the military coup in Mandalay on May 18, 2021.AFP - Getty Images

An American journalist in Myanmar has been detained as he tried to board a plane headed out of the country on Monday, according his employer, amid an escalating crackdown following a coup in February.

Danny Fenster, the managing editor at Frontier Myanmar — one of the country’s leading independent news outlets — was stopped as he was about to board a flight from Yangon to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Frontier said in a statement posted to Twitter.

“We do not know why Danny was detained and have not been able to contact him since this morning. We are concerned for his wellbeing and call for his immediate release,” it said.

It is believed that Fenster has been taken to Insein Prison, the statement added. The jail is one of the country’s most notorious lock-ups for political dissidents and is where fellow U.S. journalist Nathan Muang is currently being held, according to the Associated Press.

The State Department said it was aware of reports of the detention of a U.S. citizen.

"We take seriously our responsibility to assist U.S. citizens abroad, and are monitoring the situation. Due to privacy considerations, we have no further comment," it said.

Unrest has rocked the country since February, when the military overthrew the democratically-elected civilian government. Protests and a severe crackdown on demonstrators have followed. The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma), a Thailand-based non-profit, estimates that 4,301 people have been arrested, and 824 killed, by Myanmar authorities since the coup.

Image: An anti-coup protester shows the three fingered salute of resistance on his red painted hand in memory of protesters who lost their lives during previous demonstrations in Yangon, Myanmar
A protester shows the three fingered salute of resistance on his red painted hand in memory of other who lost their lives during previous demonstrations in Yangon, Myanmar on April 6, 2021.AP file

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The Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand estimated that Fenster was one of over 70 journalists detained in Myanmar since February.

The FCCT hailed the “courageous” work done by Fenster at Frontier Myanmar and Myanmar Now, his current and former employers, and condemned the move.

“The arrests of journalists, and the violence used by the security forces on anyone caught trying to report or record their actions, constitute an extraordinary attack on freedom of expression in Myanmar, and should be widely condemned,” it said.

“The FCCT urges all governments to show their support for media freedom in Myanmar by protesting this and other detentions of journalists at every opportunity.”

In Michigan, where Fenster's family is from, calls have been growing for his release.

Protesters hold the flag of the National League of Democracy party of ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi, during a "flash mob" rally in Bahan township in Yangon, Myanmar on Sunday.AP

“On behalf of my family, we’re incredibly overwhelmed with gratitude for the outpouring of support from around the world for Danny Fenster. We’re awaiting more information and continue to call for his immediate release,” said his brother, Bryan Fenster, on Instagram.

Meanwhile, Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., said his office was in contact the Fenster family and would closely monitor the situation.

“I am disturbed that Danny Fenster, a Metro Detroit native who is a journalist in Burma, was detained today in Yangon, Burma,” he said, using the name the country was known by before its then-military rulers changed it to Myanmar in 1989.