US citizen ‘wrongly’ detained in Myanmar, embassy says

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Downtown Yangon, the commercial capital of Myanmar, after the February 2021 coup. / The Irrawaddy

By AFP July 22, 2022

A US citizen is being wrongfully detained in junta-ruled Myanmar, a US embassy spokesman told AFP on Friday.

“We are aware of the wrongful detention of a US citizen in Burma,” the spokesperson told AFP, using the country’s former name.

The United States has led Western criticism of the coup that toppled the government of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi last year and imposed sanctions on high-ranking members of the junta and military-linked businesses.

Several foreigners have since been arrested as part of the junta’s crackdown on dissent.

The spokesman did not provide details on how long the US citizen was held or whether he had been charged by junta authorities.

Staff were “providing all appropriate consular assistance”, they said.

On Tuesday, US President Joe Biden paved the way for sanctions against governments that unjustly imprison Americans and ordered more detailed travel warnings after a series of high-profile detentions.

The move came after widespread media coverage of the Russian detention on drug charges of basketball star Brittney Griner, whose wife initially said Biden was not doing enough.

The US State Department, in its travel advisories for Americans, now highlights in which countries there is a high risk of unjust detention.

Myanmar was included in the initial group of nations that will carry a “D” grade for detention risk, along with China, Iran, North Korea, Russia and Venezuela.

In an updated travel advisory, the State Department said it had determined “at least one U.S. national” had been wrongfully detained in Myanmar.

Polish photojournalist Robert Bociaga and Japanese journalist Yuki Kitazumi were both arrested during early protests against the coup.

US citizen Nathan Maung was arrested in March last year during a police raid on the local media he ran and accused of encouraging dissent against the military.

He was released months later.

Fellow journalist and US citizen Danny Fenster was arrested in May 2021 and in November was sentenced to 11 years in prison for unlawful association, incitement against the military and violation of visa rules.

A few days later, he was pardoned and expelled from Myanmar.

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