Danny Fenster’s parents, Rose and Buddy
Danny Fenster’s parents, Rose and Buddy. (Courtesy of Bryan Fenster)

The Fensters and friends crafted letters that people can send to their elected officials in Congress as well as a petition urging President Joe Biden and the U.S. Department of State to secure Danny’s release.

It has been over two weeks since the military junta in Myanmar detained journalist and Detroit native Danny Fenster, 37, at the Yangon International airport May 24 as he was about to board a flight to Kuala Lumpur on the first leg of a journey back to see his family after being abroad for three years.

Two weeks have passed since Danny’s brother last texted his wife, Julianna, that she should call the U.S. Embassy there and that he was being detained at the airport. Since then, no one has heard from him or knows the status of his well-being.

Fenster’s brother Bryan Fenster, 39, of Huntington Woods said he has heard nothing from the U.S. State Department or the U.S. Embassy in Myanmar since last week, but he said his family’s spirits are “high” as they launched a media campaign, including a website and a growing Facebook group, “Bring Danny Home,” with more than 1,000 members to maintain awareness of Danny’s plight and offer support to his family.

Bryan and Southfield-based Suite 104 Productions last week launched a website for the public to stay engaged with updates and action items. It is also a place to purchase a #BringDannyHome T-shirt with a logo designed by another friend, Robbie Biederman of Detroit. All sales proceeds will be held in a fund that will go to a charity of Danny’s choice once he is released and home.

Courtesy of Bryan Fenster

The Fensters and friends crafted letters that people can send to their elected officials in Congress as well as a MoveOn.com petition urging President Joe Biden and the U.S. Department of State to secure Danny’s release.

The petition states: “The United States has a profound interest in preserving the freedom of the press worldwide in order to guarantee direct access to independent information for all people. As a nation that is deeply committed to protecting the freedoms, safety and human rights of its citizens, U.S. officials should be making every effort to ensure that Danny is returned home safely; now. We urge the Biden Administration and U.S. Department of State to act with the utmost urgency to secure Danny’s immediate, unconditional, and safe release and return to the United States. #BringDannyHome.”

Fenster is managing editor of online magazine Frontier Myanmar and has worked to cover life in that country before and during the coup. On May 24, the publication released a statement that it believes Fenster is being detained at Insein Prison. According to reports from the New York Times, Insein (pronounced “insane”) is a 134-year-old prison notorious for harsh conditions and the ill-treatment and torture of captives. Since the military junta took over the government in Myanmar in February, it has packed the circular-shaped prison to twice its capacity. Prisoners sleep on straw mattresses and food is often nothing more than rice contaminated with small stones.

According to reports from the Washington Post, the military government of Myanmar routinely publishes lists of “wanted” journalists, accusing them of affecting “state stability.” It has detained more than 70 journalists.

Fenster’s parents, Rose and Buddy Fenster of Huntington Woods, have made television appearances on several media outlets, including CNN, to publicly voice their plea for their son’s release.

Bryan and Danny Fenster
Bryan and Danny Fenster, September 2019, at a friend’s wedding in Krakow, Poland. It was the last time the brothers saw each other.

In an interview with the JN, Bryan said he, family and friends are trying to keep focused on creative ways to continue to tell Danny’s story.

Bryan said many of Danny’s childhood and high school friends are working tirelessly to support his family and keep the spotlight on the journalist’s plight.

Supporters include Jeffrey Nolish of Detroit. He and Danny grew up together in Huntington Woods and reconnected when they were both attending separate colleges in Chicago. After graduation, they returned to Detroit in 2013 and lived together as roommates.

Now, Nolish is doing his part by creating “The Danny Reader,” an online anthology of all of Danny’s writings as a journalist in Chicago, Detroit, Telluride and San Diego as well as his international coverage of stories in Thailand and Burma (Myanmar).

“Danny is a gifted writer, a talented journalist and a storyteller who’s always had an interest in human rights and social justice,” said Nolish, who is policy director for Detroit Disability Power, a nonprofit that advocates for those with disabilities. “I wanted to compile some of Danny’s writing to showcase that voice and amplify it while we continue to advocate for his immediate and unconditional release.”

Bryan said Fenster’s wife, Julianna Fenster, visits the prison daily, but her requests for permission to visit her husband or just to get a status on his well-being have all been denied.

“Julianna is also in contact with the U.S. State Department,” Bryan said. “With (Myanmar) being 10 hours ahead, I speak to her first thing in the morning and the last thing at night.  We are trying to coordinate our efforts and create certain relationships with all these people who are helping us. We just don’t want Danny to be forgotten or have his status slip from the news or from the front of people’s minds.”

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Stacy Gittleman is an award-winning journalist and has been a contributing writer for the Detroit Jewish News for the last five years. Prior to moving to Metro Detroit in 2013, she was a columnist and feature writer for Gannett's Democrat & Chronicle in Rochester, NY. She also manages social media pages for other local non-profit organizations including the Interfaith Leadership Council of Metropolitan Detroit. Contact her with breaking news and feature story ideas that impact Detroit's Jewish community at stacy.gittleman@yahoo.com