The State Department on Friday called on Myanmar’s military regime to release Danny Fenster, an American journalist based in Myanmar who was detained earlier this week as he tried to board a flight out of the country.
“We are deeply concerned over the detention of US citizen Daniel Fenster, who was working as a journalist in Burma,” a State Department spokesperson said Friday. “We have pressed the military regime to release him immediately and will continue to do so until he is allowed to return home safely to his family.”
Fenster, 37, who’s originally from Detroit, works for the news site Frontier Myanmar in Myanmar’s largest city, Yangon.
The State Department spokesperson said consular officers from the US Embassy “have sought to visit Daniel, but have thus far not been afforded access to him by regime officials.”
“We urge the Burmese regime to grant consular access, as required by the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, without delay, and to ensure proper treatment of Daniel while he remains detained,” the spokesperson said.
“Free and independent media is indispensable to building prosperous, resilient and free societies,” the spokesperson said. “The detention of Daniel Fenster, as well as the arrest and use of violence by the Burmese military against other journalists, constitutes an unacceptable attack on freedom of expression in Burma.”
Rep. Andy Levin, a Michigan Democrat, tweeted on Friday: “Yesterday, I spoke with @StateDept, the Burmese ambassador to the U.S. and our ambassador to Burma. Danny Fenster’s immediate and unconditional release is a top priority. Thank you for your calls and emails. Please know I will not stop fighting until Danny is home.”
Frontier Myanmar said in a statement earlier this week that the news outlet didn’t know why Fenster had been held, adding: “We are concerned for his wellbeing and call for his immediate release. Our priorities right now are to make sure he is safe and to provide him with whatever assistance he needs.”
Frontier Myanmar also said it understands Fenster has been transferred to Insein Prison near Yangon. Insein is one of the country’s most notorious prisons, known for its deplorable conditions.
Fenster’s brother Bryan Fenster said earlier this week that the family doesn’t have much information on his brother’s situation.
“I can only assume being a journalist in a country that’s run by the military who wants to control the narrative, he was flagged being a journalist when he was at the airport. Can’t begin to imagine why it happened,” he said. “He was on valid work papers, valid visas, passports, everything. He was voluntarily leaving the country to come visit family, so we can’t see what the issue is.”
He said his brother was flying to the United States to surprise his parents, whom he had not seen for more than two years. The family had been concerned about the safety of being a journalist in Myanmar following February’s military coup, and felt shocked and worried at the news of his detention, Bryan said, calling it a “nightmare.”
The detention comes almost four months after Myanmar’s military seized power in a coup on February 1, overthrowing the democratically elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi and detaining government officials. Junta security forces have brutally suppressed almost daily protests across the country, killing more than 820 people and arresting more than 5,400, according to advocacy group Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.
The junta has attempted to silence the country’s media by revoking independent publishing and broadcast licenses, raiding newspaper offices and targeting journalists for arrest. Among the thousands of people detained since the coup are 85 journalists, including 48 still in detention, according to Reporting Asean.
Fenster is among a number of foreign journalists to be detained since the coup.
CNN’s Jonny Hallam and Sharif Paget contributed to this report.