Danny Fenster, a 37-year-old American journalist based in Myanmar, was looking forward to returning to the U.S. to surprise his parents after being away from them for work for almost three years. But after getting to the airport on Monday, he never made it on his flight.
On Monday morning, Danny’s brother, Bryan, woke up to frantic messages from Danny’s wife and colleague saying his brother had been apprehended at Yangon International Airport before boarding a plane to the U.S to visit family.
“You never imagine something like this. It’s hard to see, hard to swallow,” Bryan, who said he has been “running on adrenaline” since learning of his brother’s arrest, told The Daily Beast. Bryan described Danny as an “incredibly humble” person, with “an incredible sense of humor, incredible cultural sensitivities and integrity as a journalist.”
In Yangon, Danny had been working for Frontier Myanmar, an independent online magazine. His employers and several family members have said that they haven’t been able to reach Danny since learning of his detainment on Monday.
His wife, Juliana, had been texting her husband while he checked in at the airport. She was supposed to meet him in the U.S. a few weeks later.
“We kept talking through text messages, I knew he had already checked in, passed immigration control, and was waiting at the boarding gate,” Juliana told The Daily Beast. “The whole process was very smooth. Then the next message was to say that he was being detained. I was confused because it came from nowhere and I could never imagine this would happen to him. But it did, and I haven’t heard back from him until now.”
The last thing he told his wife when she dropped him off at the airport: “Love you. See you in 20 days.”
Fenster’s detainment has taken place amid a period of violent unrest in Myanmar following a military coup in February, which saw the ousting of civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her government. Since then, junta security forces have brutally cracked down on widespread protests across the country, killing over 800 citizens and detaining dozens of journalists—now including Fenster.
According to a statement released by Frontier Myanmar, Fenster is currently sitting in a Yangon prison.
“Frontier’s managing editor, Danny Fenster, was detained at Yangon International Airport this morning shortly before he was due to board a flight to Kuala Lumpur. We understand he has been transferred to Insein Prison in Yangon,” read the statement.
“We do not know why Danny was detained and have not been able to contact him since this morning. We are concerned for his well being and call for his immediate release. Our priorities right now are to make sure he is safe and to provide him with whatever assistance he needs.”
In response to a comment request from The Daily Beast about Fenster’s case, a State Department spokesperson said, “We are aware of reports of a U.S. citizen detained in Burma. We take seriously our responsibility to assist U.S. citizens abroad and are monitoring the situation. Due to privacy considerations, we have no further comment.”
Danny’s wife explained that while the dread of not hearing from him is “extremely painful,” his family is trying “hard to be strong for Danny. We are grateful for all the support and all the love coming from different people, from all around the world, and it helps to keep us going until he is released.”
“Danny is a gifted writer and a talented journalist. A storyteller,” she added. “He loves to travel and to learn about other people’s cultures. He is a loving partner and the kind of person that makes friends wherever he goes.”
His brother, Bryan, shared similar sentiments.
“Being a journalist is a big responsibility to the people. [Danny] always puts the people first, the truth first, with objectivity,” he said, “which is what any good journalist should do.”