Mr. Fenster was convicted of violating the Unlawful Association Act, which carries a maximum three-year sentence, and of violating Myanmar’s immigration law, which can be punished with up to five years in prison. The third charge, disseminating information that could be harmful to the military, carries a maximum sentence of three years.
“There is absolutely no basis to convict Danny of these charges. His legal team clearly demonstrated to the court that he had resigned from Myanmar Now and was working for Frontier from the middle of last year,” said Thomas Kean, Frontier’s editor in chief.
“Everyone at Frontier is disappointed and frustrated at this decision,” he said. “We just want to see Danny released as soon as possible so he can go home to his family.”
Myanmar’s military, which had shared power for years with a civilian government before the Feb. 1 coup, has since staged a violent crackdown, killing more than 1,250 people and detaining more than 7,000. More than 100 journalists have been arrested, of whom 35 are still in prison, according to a watchdog group.
Understanding the Chaos in Myanmar
Mr. Fenster, the only American known to be held in Myanmar, is being detained in Insein Prison, notorious for its harsh treatment of political prisoners. Members of his family have said that they believe he contracted Covid-19 while in prison. His lawyer said he was suffering from depression.
The former U.S. diplomat Bill Richardson, who has helped rescue other prisoners from autocratic countries, recently met in Myanmar with the junta’s leader, Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing. But while he secured the release of a former employee of his nonprofit organization, he said he had not raised the possibility of freeing Mr. Fenster because the State Department had asked him not to.
Myanmar courts have begun giving harsh sentences to prominent politicians who have spoken out against the coup. In one case, an ousted local government chief was sentenced to 90 years on six corruption charges, and a former top state official got 75 years on five similar charges. Fifteen years was the maximum possible sentence for each count.