Former LA. journalist Danny Fenster remembered for his award-winning work
By ALAN SMASON, Exclusive to the CCJN
Danny Fenster, a Jewish Detroit-born journalist who won a top Louisiana award for a series of stories he wrote in New Iberia about the marginalized and threatened African-American community there, was formally sentenced today to an 11-year prison term by military authorities in Mynamar.
Fenster, who had been detained in prison by authorities since May 24, was boarding a flight at Yangon (formerly Rangoon) International Airport to Kuala Lampur, the first leg on a trip to visit relatives back home, when he was arrested. Prior to his being detained in Yangon at Insein Prison, Fenster was the managing editor of Frontier Mynamar, a news magazine that covers the country formerly known as Burma.
Authorities representing the military junta that toppled the previous Mynamar government in a coup d’etat, held the trial at Insein Prison behind closed doors before delivering what human rights activists termed as a particularly harsh sentence.
Fenster came to Mynamar in August of 2019 after having worked for The Daily Iberian newspaper from February of 2017 to August of 2018. He won the Louisiana Press Association’s Best News Story category for a story about the marginalized African-American community of New Iberia, whose family members had been lost due to violence and excessive force by authorities there.
“Danny and I became very close when he came here to New Iberia,” said Robby Bethel. “Danny wanted to know more about New Iberia.”
Bethel was struck by Fenster’s dedication to uncovering the truth. “I found his heart to be very concerned about justice for the community for people who have been almost forgotten. He really wanted to know the people and the community and that was important to me,” she said.
In the course of covering the story, the two formed an unusual relationship. “I called him ‘my little brother’ and he called me his ‘little sis,'” Bethel added.
“We have to protect our journalists first of all, people like Danny,” Bethel noted. “We need journalists like Danny – Danny wrote about the truth. One of the things Danny and I talked about is that you can’t have justice without truth. Danny was all about writing the truth.”
Another New Iberia community leader, Phoebe Hayes, were also struck by Fenster’s love of people.
Hayes remembered Fenster as “very nice and socially conscious.” She respected his work as a journalist, particularly when it coincided with her work as the founder of the Iberia African-American Historical Society.
“I will always honor him,” Hayes said. “I think he upped the standard here with our newspaper, because he focused on social issues, which I had not noticed our newspaper doing before.”
Both Bethel and Hayes expressed incredulity at the sentence given by the military tribunal court. “We were just heartbroken,” Hayes stressed. “We were just shocked; I don’t think anyone expected that.”
According to the story reported today by JTA, Fenster broke down crying, when informed of the sentence. His attorney said he would not appeal, because the government controls the appeals process and there was no point.