WASHINGTON – The family of Danny Fenster, an American journalist detained in Myanmar two weeks ago, is calling on President Joe Biden to intervene personally as independent efforts to reach Fenster have failed, his brother said in an interview on Wednesday.
“We heard from everyone except the White House,” Bryan Fenster, Danny’s brother, told NBC News.
Bryan Fenster said the family had “worked tirelessly” to contact his brother to no avail. While acknowledging the diplomatic efforts of the US government, he wants Biden or Vice President Kamala Harris to use their megaphone to lobby.
“We are doing everything we can. Our government is doing all it can; but it’s like screaming in a black hole. They are not responding, they are not using any diplomatic channel, ”said Bryan Fenster. “There doesn’t seem to be any direct contact with them.”
The White House said in a statement to NBC News that the administration was “deeply concerned” about Fenster’s detention, but did not say Biden would take personal action.
“We urged the military regime to release him immediately and will continue to do so until he is allowed to return home safe and sound to his family,” a spokesperson for the National Security Council said.
Danny Fenster, 37, is the editor of Frontier Myanmar, one of the country’s leading independent news organizations. In February, the military overthrew the democratically elected civilian government, leading to civil unrest, protests and a harsh crackdown on protesters.
He was arrested at Yangon International Airport in Myanmar as he tried to return home to Michigan more than two weeks ago, the family said. Frontier Myanmar said in a statement on Twitter that it believed Fenster was taken to Insein Prison in Yangon, a notoriously brutal prison.
Myanmar’s military government has arrested thousands of people since the February coup in an attempt to suppress the opposition. The Biden administration imposed sanctions and called on the military to restore the democratically elected government.
The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand estimated in May that Fenster was one of more than 70 journalists detained in Myanmar since February.
U.S. officials have yet to make contact with Fenster and do not know what charges he faces, according to U.S. Representative Andy Levin, D-Mich. and the Fenster family. His wife, Julianna, who is in Yangon, could not see him either.
Levin said Biden’s weigh-in was “an option” that could “come up at some point,” but strategically it might be best to let Myanmar “save face” before the president gets involved.
Daniel Bastard, director of the Asia-Pacific office of Reporters Without Borders, said such a cut in communication was “unusual”, even by junta standards.
In the case of Yuki Kitazumi, a Japanese journalist recently released after being charged in Myanmar with “false information”, said Bastard, “we found out very quickly what he was officially imprisoned for”.
Two reporters, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, who worked for the Reuters news agency, were arrested in 2017 and jailed by the Burmese government for more than 500 days after reporting the murder of Rohingya Muslims in a crackdown military.
Levin has been on the phone daily with officials and ambassadors from neighboring countries who may have contact with the military junta, to no avail, the congressman said. Michigan Senator Gary Peters, during a call last week with National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, also mentioned Fenster’s case, the governor said in a statement.
Levin, meanwhile, pressed U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken over Danny Fenster’s case during a hearing this week on Capitol Hill.
“We didn’t have access to Daniel Fenster. This is a violation, among other things, of the Vienna Convention. We are pushing this in every way we can, ”Blinken said in response at a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on Monday.