HUNTINGTON WOODS, Mich. (WXYZ) — A metro Detroit journalist remains jailed in Myanmar, a country in Southeast Asia, in a prison where journalists have been tortured.
Danny Fenster’s family says the Myanmar government is not allowing any access so they can be reassured that the 37-year-old is okay. The man from Huntington Woods worked at a news organization called Frontier Myanmar.
“Journalists are the eyes and ears to the world. He cares deeply about people, especially the oppressed and underserved. And that is what he was doing in Myanmar,” said Bryan Fenster, Danny’s Brother. “He was telling their stories.”
Bryan says his brother wrote about how the people of Myanmar were just getting a sense of democracy. Then, in February, the military detained democratically elected leaders and seized power. Violence followed. The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners says that more than 800 people have been killed and thousands arrested during political unrest.
Danny Fenster is believed to be held in Insein Prison in Yangon, a prison where other journalists have been tortured.
Some are asking whether a law change pushed by a U.S. Congressman from Michigan helped fund for a time what is happening in Myanmar.
“What is the purpose of Huizenga, Rep. Huizenga leading this effort to undo anti-corruption and transparency measures?” asks Brendon Thomas, a man from West Michigan, who has worked with Earth Rights International, a human rights and sustainability organization that operates in Myanmar.
Brendon Thomas criticizes U.S. Representative Bill Huizenga’s (R-District 2) part in changing a Securities and Exchange Commission requirement that U.S. oil and gas companies share information on deals with foreign governments.
Thomas says through his work on the House Financial Services Committee Representative Huizenga helped change Section 1504 of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act. It required oil and gas companies disclose extraction deals made with foreign governments.
Thomas says it allowed Chevron to potentially play a part in funding the military coup in Myanmar without transparency.
“That is important because, without that financing from the extracting industries, the corrupt undemocratic regime in Myanmar can’t exist. It can’t support itself without the financing to buy the arms and ammunitions to commit these abuses,” said Thomas.
Chevron posted a statement on its website on the company’s position on what is happening in Myanmar condemning human rights abuses.
“There has been debate on the benefits of the continued presence of U.S. business in Myanmar. We believe responsible companies like ours that work to protect the human rights of their employees and support local communities with basic human needs including healthcare, education, and energy, have a role to play in Myanmar today and in the future. We also consider that any action we take in breach of agreements and laws may open the door for another company that doesn’t share our values to take our place,” said the statement from Chevron.
Chevron announced late in May that it is suspending some payments that could reach Myanmar’s junta.
Representative Huizenga’s office says the change allows U.S. companies to compete globally and that he is calling for Danny’s release.
“Section 1504 has nothing to do with Mr. Fenster’s abduction. Additionally, the United States has continued to expand sanctions against the illegitimate junta leadership in Myanmar making it illegal for any financial transactions or business from U.S. companies to legally take place,” said Brian Patrick, Communications Director for Rep. Huizenga.
Patrick went on to criticize any coverage of citizens questioning the decision to push to get rid of the rule saying, “This is irresponsible ‘journalism’ at best.”
“Activists working to bring transparency, to understand how the military is financing itself to commit these human rights violations that have occurred since February 1st, and even before this, they need to have transparency,” said Thomas.
In the meantime, Danny’s loved ones are focused on doing all they can, from posting on social media to selling these t-shirts to raise awareness of his situation, hoping it leads to him coming home.
“Think about your own kids. If they were in that situation, what would you do?” said Tim Downey.
“We want to be there for the Fensters and we just want to bring Danny home,” said Jess Downey.
“Really our strength is coming from our friends and our community,” said Brian.
If you want to follow family and friends’ posts on social media go to https://www.facebook.com/groups/1164768597279223.