US journalist sentenced to 11 years in Myanmar court

U.S. journalist Danny Fenster was sentenced by a court in Myanmar on Friday to 11 years in prison with hard labor after he was found guilty on several charges, including spreading false information.

The Biden administration has pressed Myanmar's ruling military junta for Fenster's release, and has described the journalist's arrest as "profoundly unjust." 

Fenster, the managing editor of the online magazine Frontier Myanmar, was found guilty of incitement for allegedly spreading false or inflammatory information, contacting illegal organizations and violating visa regulations, and more, according to The Associated Press, citing his lawyer Than Zaw Aung. He was sentenced to the maximum term on each charge.

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Fenster, who has been detained since May, reportedly wept in court upon hearing his sentencing. He has not decided if he will appeal.

The 37-year-old still faces two additional charges in a separate court for allegedly violating the counterterrorism law and a statute covering treason and sedition, according to the AP.

“Everyone at Frontier is disappointed and frustrated at this decision. We just want to see Danny released as soon as possible so he can go home to his family,” Editor-in-Chief Thomas Kean said in a statement, according to the AP. “There is absolutely no basis to convict Danny of these charges.″

Fenster is the only foreign journalist to be convicted of a serious crime since the military seized power in February, which effectively booted the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi. 

He was arrested in May while attempting to leave the country to go home to Detroit and visit family, according to The Associated Press.

According to the news outlet, the military junta in the country has cracked down hard on the freedom of the press amid the coup.

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A number of journalists groups and the U.S. government have called for Fenster's release, according to the news outlet.

Earlier this month, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Bill Richardson traveled to Myanmar to discuss humanitarian assistance surrounding COVID-19, but raised hopes that he would press for Fenster's release given his high-profile work in pushing to free Americans detained abroad.

But Richardson reportedly told news outlets that the State Department told him not to raise Fenster's case during his visit.  

State Department spokesperson Ned Price on Monday declined to comment on private discussions with Richardson, but said that the administration remains "deeply concerned" over Fenster's detention. 

"We have continued to press the junta for Danny's release," Price said, adding that U.S. consular officers last spoke with Fenster by phone on Oct. 31.   

"This case is an absolute priority for the department, and it will be until Danny is able to return to his family."

Updated at 8:27 a.m.