US journalist jailed for 11 years in Myanmar

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YANGON (NYTIMES, REUTERS) - American journalist Danny Fenster, who has been imprisoned in Myanmar since May, was found guilty of three charges on Friday (Nov 12) and given an 11-year prison term, the maximum possible sentence.

Mr Fenster's conviction and sentencing - on charges that include disseminating information that could harm Myanmar's military, which rules the country - were announced by his employer, Frontier Myanmar magazine, after a court hearing in Yangon that was closed to the public. Mr Fenster is the magazine's managing editor.

"Frontier Myanmar is deeply disappointed at the decision today," the news outlet said.

"The sentences imposed were the harshest possible under the law."

The US condemned the ruling as an "unacceptable attack on freedom of expression in Burma" and a reminder of the continuing human rights and humanitarian crisis in Myanmar.

"The ruling today represents an unjust conviction of an innocent person," a State Department spokesman said by email.

"We are closely monitoring Danny's situation and will continue to work for his immediate release."

Two new charges of terrorism and sedition were filed against Mr Fenster this week, each of which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.

His lawyer said he was baffled by those charges and had yet to see any evidence supporting them.

Mr Fenster was arrested as he prepared to board a plane at Yangon International Airport and leave the country. The charges on which he was convicted Friday were based on his previous employment at another news outlet, Myanmar Now, which is reviled by the military.

Prosecutors mistakenly said that he still worked for Myanmar Now, though he left it in July last year.

Mr Fenster was convicted of violating the Unlawful Association Act, which carries a maximum five-year sentence, and 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 punishment of up to three years in prison.

"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 Mr 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."

The US embassy in Myanmar did not immediately respond to a request for comment, Reuters said, adding that a spokesman for the ruling military council could not also immediately be reached.

Myanmar's military, which had shared power for years with a civilian government, took control of the country in a Feb 1 coup. Staging a violent crackdown, it has killed more than 1,250 people and detained more than 7,000.

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