Lawmakers urge Biden admin to secure release of Michigan journalist in Myanmar

By: - June 27, 2021 8:23 am

President Joe Biden, joined by Vice President Kamala Harris, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and White House staff, participates in the virtual Quad Summit with Australia, India, and Japan Friday, March 12, 2021, in the State Dining Room of the White House. | Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz via Flickr Public Domain

The state House has adopted a resolution to “urge the Biden Administration and U.S. Department of State to act with the utmost urgency to secure the release” of Danny Fenster, a Michigan native and American journalist detained in Myanmar. 

House Resolution 118, which was introduced by Rep. Regina Weiss (D-Oak Park), passed Wednesday and urges the Biden administration to secure the release of the Huntington Woods native after he was detained by police in the Yangon International Airport on May 24. 

Graphic from Danny Fenster supporters

“I am thankful my colleagues have joined me in calling for the Biden administration to act swiftly to pressure the Myanmar military government to ensure Danny’s safe return to his friends and family,” Weiss said in a press release. “We will continue to do everything we can to support the Fenster family during this time.”

The state Senate also adopted its own resolution calling for the release of Fenster a few weeks ago. On May 25, all 16 members of Michigan’s congressional delegation sent a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken asking that the United States “spare no effort” to free Fenster immediately and unconditionally.

The managing editor of Frontier Myanmar was detained while attempting to travel back to Detroit to visit his family. The trip would have been his first trip home in three years. 

In the same press release published by Michigan lawmakers, Fenster’s brother, Bryan, expressed his and his family’s concern for Danny.

“We’re heartbroken over the unlawful detention of my brother,” said Bryan. “He complied with Burmese law, working for an accredited outlet with a valid publishing license, and retained current employment papers and visas. His only crime was being an objective journalist and speaking truth to injustice.”

This month, a court in Myanmar extended the detention of Fenster by two weeks. The journalist has been charged under section 505a of Myanmar’s penal code, which makes it a crime to publish or circulate comments that may instill fear or spread false information. However, during the proceedings no specific reasoning was given for his detainment. 

The U.S. State Department has pressed the Myanmar government to grant them consular access to Fenster, which is required by international law.  

According to the Washington Post, Myanmar’s military government routinely publishes lists of journalists in the country who they claim are threatening “state stability.” Roughly 5,000 people have been arrested by Myanmar’s military government since a February coup that overthrew former civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Among the 5,000, more than 70 have been journalists.

Fenster’s news outlet, Frontier Myanmar, works to closely examine Myanmar’s military government and has shone a light on potential human rights violations in Myanmar. Fenster has worked for the outlet and lived in Myanmar for years before the coup. Before living and working in Myanmar, he worked as a reporter for a daily newspaper in New Iberia, La. 

Rep. Andy Levin
U.S. Rep. Andy Levin at the Mackinac Policy Conference, May 30., 2019 | Andrew Roth

Fenster’s family has worked closely with the U.S. State Department to get him released. The family has also worked in conjunction with Michigan elected officials, including Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, U.S. Rep. Andy Levin (D-Bloomfield Twp.) and U.S. Sen. Gary Peters (D-Bloomfield Twp.) who have made calls to the U.S. State Department and U.S. Embassy in Myanmar urging them to secure Fenter’s release. 

“We must bring Danny Fenster home,” said Whitmer. “My heart is with Danny’s family as they await his return, and I am proud to see adoption of Senate Resolution 61 and House Resolution 118, both of which are strong reaffirmations of Michigan’s steadfast commitment to the freedom of press. We are standing up for our values and making our expectation clear: Danny Fenster must be released safely and immediately. We will continue putting on pressure and working with the federal government until he is back home, in Michigan, with his loved ones.”

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Julia Forrest
Julia Forrest

Julia Forrest is a contributor to the Michigan Advance. She has been covering Michigan and national politics for two years at the Michigan Daily and OpenSecrets. She studies public policy at the University of Michigan.