MYANMAR GOVT SENTENCES US JOURNALIST FOR 11 YEARS

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A Myanmar junta court on Friday sentenced an American journalist to 11 years in prison on charges of unlawful association, incitement against the military, and breaching visa rules, his employer and lawyer said.

The military has squeezed the press since taking power in a February coup, arresting dozens of journalists critical of its crackdown on dissent, which has killed over 1,200 people according to a local monitoring group.

Danny Fenster, who had been working for the local outlet Frontier Myanmar for around a year, was arrested in May as he tried to leave the country to see his family.

He was sentenced to 11 years for incitement, unlawful association and breaching visa rules, his lawyer Than Zaw Aung told AFP.

His client had not decided whether he would appeal, he added. Fenster, who has been held in Yangon’s Insein prison since he was detained, also faces charges of sedition and terrorism, which could see him jailed for life.

“Everyone at Frontier is disappointed and frustrated at this decision,” Frontier Myanmar said in a statement.

“We just want to see Danny released as soon as possible so he can go home to his family.”

The sentencing was based on evidence from the junta-appointed information ministry that showed at the time of his arrest Fenster had been working at a local outlet, Myanmar Now, which had its license revoked shortly after the coup, Than Zaw Aung said.

He noted US diplomats were working to get him released. “It will be resolved through diplomatic channels and hopefully very quickly,” he said.

“But obviously this sentence is a big setback to US efforts.” The sentencing comes days after former US diplomat and hostage negotiator Bill Richardson met junta chief Min Aung Hlaing in the capital Naypyidaw, handing the increasingly isolated junta some rare publicity. Richardson, declining to give further details, said the US State Department asked him not to raise Fenster’s case during his visit.

Fenster is believed to have contracted Covid-19 during his detention, family members said during a conference call with American journalists in August.

He last spoke with US consular officials by phone on October 31, State Department spokesman Ned Price said Monday.

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