American Journalist Seized by Burmese Military Suffers in Prison

Family lost contact with Danny Fenster in August

Danny Fenster / Courtesy of Fenster family
September 4, 2021

The Biden administration is struggling to secure the release of an American journalist imprisoned by the Burmese military due to his newspaper’s reporting of critical human rights abuses in the country.

Danny Fenster, a 37-year-old Michigan native, was detained and imprisoned by Burmese military forces in May during a nationwide crackdown on political freedoms after generals toppled the democratically elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi last February. Fenster's mother is now worried he will be left behind.

"It's been a tough 100 days," said Rose Fenster, Danny’s mother. "Danny has always been the type of child, young adult, and adult to care and listen to other people’s stories. He really wants to hear where people come from. The fact that he’s lost all his freedoms and he is that type of person makes things all the more hard."

Burmese authorities are holding Fenster as they investigate him for disseminating information contrary to the interests of the Burmese military while working as managing editor of the pro-freedom outlet Frontier Myanmar. The State Department, which is in the midst of trying to evacuate hundreds of Americans left behind in Afghanistan, has been working to secure the release of American political prisoners and hostages held abroad.

A State Department spokesman told the Washington Free Beacon the administration is "deeply concerned" by Fenster's imprisonment.

"His detention, and that of so many others, is a sad reminder of the continuing human rights and humanitarian crisis facing the country. We continue to press Burma’s military regime to release Danny immediately," the agency said. "We will do so until he returns home safely to his family."

Fenster has spent months in Burma's notorious Insein Prison, and his family is skeptical about his condition, particularly after he contracted COVID-19. His phone calls are limited to 20 minutes and conducted with authorities in the room. The journalist's brother, Bryan Fenster, says the family has not heard from him since Aug. 1.

"You can hear the anxiety and frustration in his voice," Bryan Fenster said. "We started working on lack of sleep and lack of nutrition, and all of that has become normal now, which is not right."

A bipartisan group of lawmakers are also applying pressure to secure Danny’s release. Reps. Andy Levin (D., Mich.) and Lisa McClain (R., Mich.) voiced forceful concerns to the Free Beacon about Danny and offered support to his family.

"The United States must do everything it can to rescue Danny Fenster," McClain said. "American citizens, especially journalists, should never be arrested for doing their jobs." 

Levin praised the Fensters' commitment to securing their son's release. "The will, the love, the creativity of this family, is a powerful forcesomething that you don't always see in this world," Levin said of the Fensters. "We will get Danny out because the Fenster family will not give up."

The Fensters, who are Jewish, are hoping their son can return home safely in time for the holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur in September. Danny’s grandmother is a 95-year-old Holocaust survivor and has not seen her grandson in three years, making the family’s hope that Danny returns soon all the more fervent.

"We have a family history of extreme oppression," said Bryan Fenster. "When the high holidays come around, this is a time for celebration, reunion, and connection, but to be mindful of suffering as well."

"We’d love to have Danny home for the Jewish New Year," Rose Fenster said.