Bring Home Danny Fenster, Our Son

  


Graphic courtesy of Bryan Fenster

Graphic courtesy of Bryan Fenster

 

Our son Danny has always been the adventurous type. He’s lived all around the country. He resided in Telluride, Colorado for a while where he operated a hot dog stand. He lived in Chicago where he earned his journalism degree. And for a brief time, when he was earning his master’s degree in creative writing at Wayne State University in Detroit, he lived in an old van – replete with a bed and bookshelves. Sometimes Danny and his trusty van found a home in a campus parking lot in Midtown Detroit overnight. In the morning, he’d shower at the campus gym. When he graduated, we were so proud, realizing that he had evolved into an impressive writer that deeply cared about reporting meaningful stories.

 

After university, he started his first full-time reporting job at The Daily Iberian in New Iberia, Louisiana, about 20 miles southeast of Lafayette. At the Iberian, he wrote about everyday events and pressing issues like race. He got to know the people. He loved them, and they loved him back. He ended up winning first place in the Louisiana Press Association’s ‘Best News Story’ category for an in-depth story on the families of murder victims still looking for closure after many years.

 

Then he got the bug to head to Thailand, where he lived for over a year splitting time between freelance reporting working at a marketing agency writing copy. Then, in August 2020, he took a reporting job in Myanmar and eventually became the managing editor of Frontier Myanmar, a magazine written in English and Burmese.

 

We knew there were dangers to being a journalist in a country that has struggled for decades with the concept of democracy. Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, had been under the control of a military junta and isolated from the rest of the world since 1962. Then, in 2015, after years of pro-democracy activism and international pressure, the county held its first democratic election that the National League for Democracy (NLD) led by Aung San Suu Kyi won in a landslide.

However, since rising to power, the NLD has struggled to roll back decades of military rule, which has never been controlled by the civilian government. As recently as August 2017, the military launched a deadly crackdown against the Rohingya, a Muslim ethnic minority group, which the United Nations later described as a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”

 

In the process, Aung San Suu Kyi’s reputation was tarnished by her cooperation with the military, and she ultimately defended her country at the International Criminal Court.

 

Then, on February 1st of this year, as the democratic parliament was expected to approve a newly elected government, Myanmar’s military successfully launched a coup – surrounding parliament and detaining Aung San Suu Kyi and top members of the NLD. The takeover was announced by military-owned TV stations, citing the 2008 Constitution that allowed the military to declare a national emergency.

 

Following the military insurrection, Suu Kyi posted a statement on the NLD’s Facebook page, calling on the nation “…not to accept the coup by the military, and resist it resoundingly.” Since then, civil disobedience and protests have spilled into the street, which have been brutally put down resulting in thousands injured and more than 600 dead.

 

With so much military-controlled propaganda, the presence of brave journalists like Danny have played a crucial role in ensuring just coverage of the unrest. Danny knew the challenges and the potential dangers, but he loved and admired the very talented and principled people he worked with – some of whom had spent time in prison during the previous regimes. He understood the importance of informing the Myanmar people, and how valuable that information was to them.

 

When we last spoke to Danny a few weeks ago prior to him being detained, he indicated that the situation was continuing to deteriorate, particularly for journalists, some of whom were in hiding. Frighteningly, Myanmar’s military regularly publishes a list of “wanted” journalists.

 

On May 24, 2021, we were stunned and heartbroken to hear that our son had been detained at Yangon International Airport shortly before boarding a flight to Kuala Lumpur. He was on his way home to the US to surprise us. According to his colleagues at Frontier Myanmar, Danny was sent to Insein Prison, which was populated with political prisoners. In a statement from Frontier, the authorities have not provided a reason as to why he has been detained or if he is facing any charges.

 

We continue to wonder: How could our son be arrested for doing good?  How could he be punished for delivering the truth? 

 

It’s been over a week now. We know our government is working diligently to get his release, and we continue to talk often to our politicians who assure us they’re doing all they can. We’ve gotten amazing support from our community, with phone calls, emails, texts, meals, and baked goods.

 

Still, the wait is painful – excruciating even. We try to keep our minds from wandering into a dark space, but we’re anxious, we’ve cried, we worry about our son’s wellbeing. 

 

Our older son Bryan has been working around the clock with friends and relatives to keep his brother’s name out there, to maintain a sense of urgency.


The Fenster Family – Danny Fenster (right), Rose Fenster (center), and Bryan Fenster (left). (Photo courtesy of Bryan Fenster)

The Fenster Family – Danny Fenster (right), Rose Fenster (center), and Bryan Fenster (left). (Photo courtesy of Bryan Fenster)

For us, this is about our son, the kid we raised, the kid we love beyond words. We also appreciate that his detainment is about the importance of a free press and the role it plays in a democracy – both at home and abroad. According to The Washington Post, Danny is the fourth foreign journalist detained in Myanmar since the military seized power in February.

 

Yes, he’s a journalist, and we love that he has become a fine one at that. But at the end of the day, he’s also the kid we raised. He is the funny, kind, caring kid, who grew into a fine man. He continues to expand our minds and the way we perceive the world. He has made our lives and many others far richer.

 

We can’t wait to hug him.


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