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Brother of U.S. journalist detained in Myanmar calls on Biden to intervene

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WASHINGTON — The family of Danny Fenster, a U.S. journalist detained in Myanmar two weeks ago, is calling on President Joe Biden to personally intervene as independent efforts to reach Fenster have failed, his brother said in an interview on Wednesday.

“We have heard from everybody with the exception of the White House,” Bryan Fenster, Danny’s brother, told NBC News.

Bryan Fenster said the family has been "working our tails off" to contact his brother without results. While acknowledging the diplomatic efforts by the U.S. government, he wants Biden or Vice President Kamala Harris to use their megaphone to apply pressure.

“We’re doing all we can. Our government is doing all we can; but it’s like yelling into a black hole. They’re not replying, they’re not using any diplomatic channels,” Bryan Fenster said. “There doesn’t seem to be any direct contact with them.”

The White House said in a statement to NBC News that the administration is “deeply concerned” about Fenster’s detention but did not say Biden would take any personal actions. 

“We have pressed the military regime to release him immediately and will continue to do so until he is allowed to return home safely to his family,” said a National Security Council spokesman.

Danny Fenster, 37, is the managing editor at Frontier Myanmar, one of the country’s leading independent news outlets. In February, the military overthrew the democratically-elected civilian government, leading to civil unrest, protests and a severe crackdown on demonstrators.

He was detained at the Yangon International Airport in Myanmar trying to fly home to Michigan more than two weeks ago, according to the family. Frontier Myanmar said in a statement on Twitter that it believed Fenster was taken to Insein Prison in Yangon, a notoriously brutal jail.

Myanmar’s military government has arrested thousands of people since a February coup in an attempt to crackdown on opposition. The Biden administration has 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 over 70 journalists detained in Myanmar since February.

Image: The parents of detained journalist Danny Fenster, from left, Buddy Fenster and Rose Fenster and brother Bryan Fenster in Huntington Woods, Mich., on June 4, 2021. (Jeff Kowalsky / AFP - Getty Images)
Image: The parents of detained journalist Danny Fenster, from left, Buddy Fenster and Rose Fenster and brother Bryan Fenster in Huntington Woods, Mich., on June 4, 2021. (Jeff Kowalsky / AFP - Getty Images)

U.S. officials have yet to make contact with Fenster and don’t know what charges he is facing, according to U.S. Rep. Andy Levin, D-Mich. and the Fenster family. His wife, Julianna, who is in Yangon, has also been unable to see him.

Levin said having Biden weigh in is “an option" that could "happen at some point," but strategically it may be better to let Myanmar "save face" before the president gets involved.

Daniel Bastard, director of Reporters Without Borders’ Asia-Pacific desk, said such a communications blackout was "unusual," even by standards of the junta.

In the case of Yuki Kitazumi, a Japanese reporter recently released after being charged in Myanmar with “false information,” Bastard said, “we knew very quickly what he was officially jailed for.”

Two reporters, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, who were working for the news agency Reuters, were detained in 2017 and jailed by the Myanmar government for more than 500 days after reporting about the killing of Rohingya Muslims during a military crackdown.

Levin has been on the phone every day with officials and ambassadors from neighboring nations who may have a contact with the military junta, to no avail, the congressman said. Michigan Sen. Gary Peters, in a call last week with national security adviser Jake Sullivan, also mentioned Fenster's case, the governor said in a statement.

Levin, meanwhile, pressed U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken about Danny Fenster's case in a hearing this week on Capitol Hill.

“We’ve not had access to Daniel Fenster. That’s a violation, among other things, of the Vienna Convention. We are pressing this in every way that we can,” Blinken said in response during a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on Monday.

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