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Myanmar court sentences American journalist Danny Fenster to 11 years in prison

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

A court in military-run Myanmar has sentenced U.S. journalist Danny Fenster to 11 years in prison. He was found guilty of incitement and two other charges. He's been in detention for more than five months. Dozens more remain detained following the military coup on February 1. Michael Sullivan reports from neighboring Thailand.

MICHAEL SULLIVAN, BYLINE: The 37-year-old managing editor of the online Frontier Myanmar was arrested back in May, detained at the airport just before he was set to board a flight back home to see his family near Detroit. He's been held in Yangon's infamous Insein Prison ever since. It's also been the venue for his trial and his sentencing earlier today.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

THAN ZAW AUNG: (Speaking Burmese).

SULLIVAN: His lawyer, Than Zaw Aung, says Fenster was sentenced to three years each for incitement and breaking the Unlawful Association Act with five years for breaking immigration law - the sentences to be served with hard labor.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

AUNG: (Speaking Burmese).

SULLIVAN: "There were tears falling from his eyes shortly after the verdicts were read," the lawyer says, "and he looked depressed. Then I encouraged him, a bit and he looked better." Fenster's employer, Frontier Myanmar, said there was absolutely no basis to convict Danny of these charges. Phil Robertson, the deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch, called the convictions a message - to shock and intimidate all remaining journalists inside Myanmar that if we can do this to a foreigner, imagine what we will do to you. He also said it was a message to the U.S. that Myanmar's military doesn't enjoy being hit with economic sanctions and can bite back with hostage diplomacy. Fenster's lawyer, Than Zaw Aung.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

AUNG: (Speaking Burmese).

SULLIVAN: "We won't appeal," he says. "I talked to Danny about it, and Danny said, you know the decision comes from the top." The lawyer says the two remaining charges of terrorism and sedition against Danny Fenster will be heard on November 16. Each case carries a maximum sentence of 20 years. In the past few weeks, the junta's courts have also started handing out harsh sentences to longtime opponents of the military. For NPR News, I'm Michael Sullivan in Bangkok. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michael Sullivan is NPR's Senior Asia Correspondent. He moved to Hanoi to open NPR's Southeast Asia Bureau in 2003. Before that, he spent six years as NPR's South Asia correspondent based in but seldom seen in New Delhi.

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