'It’s a visceral, guttural reaction,' Says Metro Detroit Mom of Jailed Myanmar Journalist

May 29, 2021, 7:55 AM by  Allan Lengel

Danny's parents, Rose and Buddy Fenster (Photo: Bryan Fenster)

Sometime Sunday or Monday, American journalist Danny Fenster was dropped off at Yangon International Airport in Myanmar by his wife Julianna, about to start a long journey to Detroit. 

As we do now when we travel, he texted her from the gate to say he’d arrived. And a little after that, his brother Bryan said, he sent a far more ominous message: “That he’d been detained, and to call the embassy.”

And that’s the last anyone has heard from Danny, who has been an occasional contributor to Deadline Detroit. 

As far as anyone knows, he’s being held in Insein Prison in Yangon with other political prisoners, although his crime is unspecified and his charge, likewise. 

“The government does whatever it wants,” said Bryan. 

His mother, Rose, describes the feeling of getting the call early Monday, about her son’s detention, “that out-of-body experience where you’re hearing this and it’s a visceral, guttural reaction.” Danny is 37 years old, but to a mother, the bond is always there, “that ache and worry that never goes away.”

For the last four days, she hasn’t been sleeping much. Or eating much. Or doing much other than waiting for another phone call from Myanmar, or Washington, or maybe Lansing. Individuals in all three places are aware of Danny’s situation; the U.S. embassy in Yangon in working on it, Michigan’s U.S. senators have expressed concern, and she’s heard the governor may call.

But waiting – and talking about Danny, and praying, and encouraging others to do the same – is all she really can do. 

Basis of Arrest

Danny is managing editor of Frontier Myanmar, an online magazine published in English and Burmese. Like other publications, it has covered the military coup that started in February. And that seems to be the basis of his arrest, according to Bryan.

Buddy and Rose Fenster with Danny in Huntington Woods in 2014

The standard charge for a journalist, Bryan said, is “violation of Penal Code 505A – spreading misinformation about the government.” It carries a sentence of one to three years in prison, which alarms the Fensters. They hope that consistent pressure on the government, via diplomatic channels, can bring Danny’s early release. 

“We’re being very optimistic,” Bryan said. “But we don’t know.” 

A Japanese journalist, Yuki Kitazumi, was similarly detained at Insein Prison and later released by the government, and told his story to Frontier Myanmar. 

While Kitazumi said he was “in good health, both mentally and physically” after his release and subsequent deportation, he “collected harrowing testimonies from his fellow inmates in prison.” He was spared the worst of it as a foreigner, but “many Burmese are being tortured.”

Community Support

Danny Fenster has a Wayne State master's degree in creative writing.

For now, Rose relies on their community for support. Friends have sent food, messages and offered whatever help they can. A retired hospice nurse, Rose now works part-time for the Oakland County Health Department as a school nurse providing Covid education and vaccinations.  

“It’s just an amazing community,” she said. “I have everything I need.” 

Those who wish to support the effort to free Danny should email, call, tweet and otherwise contact their elected representatives, especially at the federal level, Bryan said. 

“We know it’s proven that pressure on Capitol Hill works, so we can only do that,” he said. “The only way swift action will be taken is to keep up the pressure.” They’ve established a hashtag: #BringDannyHome.

The family hopes this harrowing wait ends soon with their loved one's release unharmed.

“We just really hope the junta are treating him well," Bryan said. "Knowing Danny, he is being respectful of the process and navigating this nightmare like a professional.”

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