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Growing Calls to Free U.S. Journalist Danny Fenster; Belarusian Opposition Activist Stabs Own Throat in Court; Sri Lanka Warns Sinking Cargo Ship Could Spill Oil; Las Vegas Reopens at 100 Percent Capacity; Sponsors, Tennis Stars Offer Support to Naomi Osaka. Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired June 2, 2021 - 04:30   ET



ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back, everyone. Well dozens of journalists have been arrested in Myanmar, targeted by the military junta on charges of incitement. Among them is a U.S. journalist Danny Fenster. Anna Coren reports he was detained as he tried to board a flight out of the country.


ANNA COREN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): A curious mind with an empathetic heart driven by wonder lust. Danny Fenster knew that journalism was his calling.

DANIEL FENSTER, U.S. JOURNALIST: I thought it might be interesting to show the kids how I commute around Yangon.

COREN (voice-over): So when the opportunity arose to move to Myanmar and cover this complicated country in Southeast Asia, the Detroit native jumped at it, eventually landing a position at the independent online news outlet, Frontier Myanmar as, the managing editor. But when the military staged a coup on February 1st, sparking wide-scale protests, followed by a bloody crackdown, Danny and his colleagues soon realized their profession made them a target.

BEN DUNANT, FRONTIER MYANMAR, EDITOR-AT-LARGE: There is no safe way of doing journalism. It is a job that you do inside the country at extreme risk. But it's an extremely important one. And I think for a long time in Myanmar, being a foreign national, it was seen as a protection.

COREN (voice-over): Not anymore.

FENSTER: Miss you so much. I can't wait to get home and see you.

COREN (voice-over): When 37-year-old Danny tried to board a flight to Kuala Lumpur, then onto the United States just over a week ago, authorities arrested him.

BUDDY FENSTER, DANNY FENSTER'S FATHER: Their efforts to squelch journalism, it kills life and it kills freedom. It kills truth. And I think that they're -- they just need to let him go immediately. He has not committed any crime there.

COREN (voice-over): He's the fourth foreign national among the more than 80 journalists who have been arrested since the coup began.

Another U.S. journalists, Nathan Maung, was also detained back in March when his offices were raided. A family friend of Nathan's told CNN that the Editor-in-Chief of Kamayut Media was tortured for two weeks after his arrest. The 44-year-old and his local producer was severely beaten around their heads, burnt on their stomach, buttocks and thighs with cigarettes and made to kneel on ice while their hands were handcuffed behind them during interrogations.

The Committee to Protect Journalists has described the abuse as unconscionable. Both Danny and Nathan are being held in the notorious insane prison, a monument to brutality housing more than 10,000 prisoners, of which hundreds are political prisoners. The squalid conditions and acts of torture behind these gates are well documented from those who survived to tell their stories.

OWEN, DANIEL FENSTER'S FRIEND: And there are many, many people in that prison who are going through hell right now and they've done nothing wrong.

COREN (voice-over): Owen, we're not using his real name due to safety concerns, was one of Danny's closest friends in Myanmar.


He left the country back in April as the crackdown against journalists escalated.

OWEN: The longer he stayed on, the more risk you are taking of them one day coming into your own house and taking you away as well.

COREN (voice-over): According to the human rights group Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, more than 830 civilians have been killed in Myanmar also known as Burma, in the last four months. And more than 4,300 have been arrested.

Danny's wife remains in Myanmar, while his family back in Michigan, work tirelessly to keep his detention in the headlines.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We miss you so much!

COREN (voice-over): Hoping and praying that the U.S. government can negotiate their son's release.

ROSE FENSTER, DANNY FENSTER'S MOTHER: It's a total nightmare. It's a total feeling of no control. It's heart wrenching. And I just want my son home no matter what it takes.

COREN (voice-over): Anna Coren, CNN, Hong Kong.


CHURCH: A Belarusian opposition activist stabbed himself in the throat during a court hearing Tuesday in Minsk. The images are disturbing. Although a local human rights watchdog says the wounds are not life threatening. The rights group says Steffan Latypov harmed himself in court because he says authorities threatened to harm his family if he didn't plead guilty to charges he denies. CNN's Frederik Pleitgen joins us now live from Berlin to talk more on this. So Fred, it is a disturbing and distressing story. What is the latest on this?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, certainly is, Rosemary. And all this played out in the Minsk courtroom yesterday. And essentially what happened was that as this trial was going on, is that Steffan Latypov's father, he was in the stand as a witness. And when his father had finished, it was then that Steffan Latypov said that the authorities had pressured him, had said they would go after him if he didn't wrongfully admit his guilt. And that he would -- they would go after his neighbors and his family as well.

It was then that he took out a pen and stabbed himself in the throat. And I think one of the things that our viewers are able to see on the very disturbing images is that the defendants in the trial very often are in cages. So it took a while actually for court workers to get to Latypov and get him out. He was then carried on a sort of gurney stretcher outside. And as you mentioned, required surgery. But luckily his wounds are not life threatening.

And Rosemary, this really is another reflection of the ongoing and accelerating crackdown on dissent on activism and on critical journalism in Belarus. Obviously, Roman Protasevich, still in jail. His companion, Sofia Sapega, also in jail. And we're now about ten days since that Ryanair flight that was carrying both of them was forced to land at Minsk airport. Of course causing an international incident.

What happened yesterday is that there was a conference in Vilnius, Lithuania by the Belarusian opposition. There was a U.S. Senate delegation there. And the opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, she called all of this state terrorism. Called on the Biden administration specifically to do more to pressure the government in Minsk. Certainly, a lot of folks in that part of the world now looking to that summit between President Biden and Vladimir Putin to see how things move forward there.

CHURCH: Yes, absolutely. We'll be watching that very closely. Fred Pleitgen, bringing us the latest from Berlin. Many thanks.

Environmentalists say it's one of the worst disasters in Sri Lanka's history. The burned cargo ship sinking off the coast could start spilling oil any time now and fragile ecosystems could soon be at risk. We'll have a live report.



CHURCH: Sri Lanka warns a cargo ship which is sinking off its coast, could soon start spilling oil. The government says the back of the ship's hull has been breached and it's filling with water. The ship had been on fire for almost two weeks. Emergency measures are now in place to try and prevent environmental damage to a nearby lagoon and wildlife.

And now Will Ripley is following the developments from Taipei. He joins us now live. So Will, what is the latest on this sinking ship and how extensive will the environmental impact likely be?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the true extent of this damage may not be learned, Rosemary, for weeks, months, years, because this is the kind of disaster that has the potential to dramatically alter the ecosystem in a nation that relies heavily on its fishing industry, on beach front tourism. And is also home to several species of endangered animals including species of turtles and fish. And nonmigratory whales that are in peril as a result of this.

You have a multiple pronged catastrophe here. There is more than 300 metric tons of oil. That's more than 300,000 kilograms of oil that could potentially spill into the ocean. Sri Lanka does have a contingency plan in place for an oil spill. So they've been trying to tow this ship out to sea, but now that the ship is sinking, that process becomes much more difficult.

But you have three to four billion plastic micro pellets that are used to make a lot of the plastics that we use in the world and these are things that animals can swallow. And that can be very damaging if not deadly for certain species of animals that swallow these.

You have chemicals, some of which we don't even know what they are yet. Because right now Sri Lanka already was calling this their worst environmental disaster in it our lifetimes if possibly ever. And that was the damage from a handful of containers that were torn apart in this explosion that happened two weeks ago that caused this fire. The fire is now burning for two weeks that's causing this ship to sink.

You have 1,400 or so large containers. Everything that is inside, the contents could potentially spill out into the ocean. I was chatting with an environmentalist right now who likened this to a manmade version of the devastating 2004 tsunami. Not in terms of visual, dramatic, and loss of life, but in terms of the potential for many years of destruction as a result of this. And they have no contingency plan in place. And he says that needs to change right now -- Rosemary.

CHURCH: All right, Will Ripley joining us live from Taipei. Many thanks.

Well the neon lights are glowing bright again in Sin City as Las Vegas welcomes back visitors with no pandemic restrictions in sight. The city is betting big on reopening to help bring back jobs and revenue. But as CNN's Lucy Kafanov reports, that could be a risky gamble.



LUCY KAFANOV, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In downtown Las Vegas, a countdown to mark Sin City's come back. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is officially open right now!

KAFANOV (voice-over): Pandemic restrictions are now a thing of the past. Maskless tourists celebrating

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You just have to see it in order to believe it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It feels good though to be back free. Hopefully, everybody goes and gets vaccinated and be back out here.

KAFANOV (voice-over): For the first time in over a year, visitors rocked out to live music. Casino's restaurants and hotels back to full capacity. Those Plexiglas dividers meant to keep gamblers safe during the pandemic, officially coming down. In most places, fully vaccinated visitors can now ditch the mask and scratch social distancing. But health experts worry, not everyone will play by the rules.

BRIAN LABUS, EPIDEMIOLOGIST, UNLV SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALTH: Well the challenge is to get people to actually wear masks if they have not been vaccinated. It's on the honor system. We have a lot of people coming to town who are on their first vacation in a year and a half.

KAFANOV (voice-over): But for a city so reliant on tourism, it's a tricky balance. Last year the coronavirus pandemic turned Vegas into a ghost town. Casinos were ordered to shut their doors costing thousands of jobs and billions in lost revenue. The Vegas jobless rate shot to 33 percent last April from 7 percent in March. One of the worst in the nation. Large trade shows and conventions came to a halt.

KAFANOV: How critical are conventions to the Las Vegas economy?

STEVE HILL, CEO AND PRESIDENT LAS VEGS CONVENTION AND VISITORS AUTHORITY: They're so critical that what you see on the strip would not make sense to build, without meetings and conventions as a major compliment of that.

KAFANOV (voice-over): Conventions bring in big bucks and crucial weekday bookings contributing more than $11 billion in 2019 alone. Next week the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority will debut the nearly $1 billion expansion to host America's first major trade show since the pandemic began.

HILL: World of concrete which is tens of thousands of people will be here June 8th. It will be the first, what we call a citywide event to happen in the United States.

KAFANOV (voice-over): It's an economic test for the stakes are high, even for a city accustomed to high stakes.

KAFANOV: Now it does feel like there is a lot of optimism here if things appear to be returning back to normal. But there's still a long road ahead. International travel isn't back yet. That's a critical missing piece of the economic puzzle. And we're not out of the woods yet in terms of the pandemic. A new surge in cases and COVID-19 cases or a new variant could put the brakes on Sin City's come back.

Lucy Kafanov, CNN, Las Vegas.


CHURCH: Amazon is trying a new tactic to draw in potential workers. The company says applicants will no longer be tested for marijuana. And the drug will be treated the same way as alcohol. Amazon notes that state laws on marijuana are changing and the company is now endorsing a bill to have the drug legalized on a federal level.

Well still to come, the face-off between a large bear and a California teen trying to protect her pooch.



CHURCH: The biggest stars in tennis come to the defense of Naomi Osaka.

Plus, a tough loss for the reigning NBA champs. Patrick Snell has our minute in sports.


PATRICK SNELL, CNN WORLD SPORT: We saw this Wednesday, Rosemary with the overwhelming show of support for Naomi Osaka following her decision to withdraw from the French Open. From the world of golf, basketball and tennis, men's top ranked Novak Djokovic calling the Japanese superstar very brave. Adding he hopes she comes back strong after the 23-year-old cited mental health reasons for withdrawing.

Elsewhere, Petra Kvitova becoming the second seeded women's player to withdraw from the tournament. The two-time major winner from the Czech Republic injured while fulfilling media obligations after her first round victory.

To the NBA playoffs now, an defeat for LeBron James and the L.A. Lakers in game five against the Phoenix Suns, Suns winning at 115 points to 85. And they now lead the best of seven series 3-2.

While the Nets advancing to the conference semis for the first time since 2014 after eliminating the Celtics. James Harden with his fourth post-season triple-double.

And Carlo Ancelotti, to the Real Madrid manager again. The famed Italian head coach leading English Premier League Everton, for his second stint at the Real. With that, Rosemary, it's back to you.


CHURCH: Thanks so much. And as Patrick mentioned there is an outpouring of support for Japanese tennis star Naomi Osaka. WORLD SPORT's Alex Thomas joins me now from London. Good to see you, Alex. So Naomi Osaka has some powerful names in her corner. What is the latest on her brave stand to shine a spotlight on this sensitive issue? ALEX THOMAS, CNN WORLD SPORT: Yes, Rosemary, we haven't heard anything

more from Naomi herself since she sensationally quit the French Open on Monday night. But a full 24 hours or more of reaction from everybody who is anybody within tennis but also the wider sports world and also business and sponsors.

And I think because of her statement explaining why she was finally quitting the tournament was so much clearer and also, you know, very open and revealing about her problems with depression, she's widely been supported. Even the tone of the latest statement from the four representatives who organized the four Grand Slam events each year was very different. Let's read out statements their statement from Tuesday.

It read: We wish to offer Naomi Osaka our support and assistance in any way possible as she takes time away from the court. She is an exceptional athlete and we look forward to her return as she deems appropriate. Mental health is a very challenging issue which deserves our utmost attention. It is both complex and personal as what effects one individual does not necessarily affect another.

That's a real softening in their stance and certainly paves the way for that dialogue that Osaka wants to talk about how to treat people differently and if they find the press conference situations so incredibly stressful.


As well in Patrick's report, Novak Djokovic, the leading ranked men's player in the world, who himself has had quite a fractious relationship with the media and also with tennis governing bodies down the years. Very support of Osaka. And points out that in the modern age when players have millions of followers on social media, they can speak directly to the fans without using the conduit of the media. I guess the only issue we would say, Rosemary, having been, you know, in this business fair old year, is that that's uncritical conduit, whilst the press are there to provide some, you know, friendly but critical questions to athletes and others.

CHURCH: Yes, and of course, though, we're dealing with such young athletes these days. But we'll see what comes of all of this. Alex Thomas joining us live from London. Many thanks.

Well a momma bear and its cubs were no match for one California dog mom and her pups. Surveillance footage captured the moments a teen shoved a bear off a backyard wall to protect her family's dogs. The pups charged toward the intruders and the bear started swiping at them. That is when the teen jumped into action bringing the dogs back to safety. A close call, she says, could have easily gone in every different direction.


HAILEY MORINICO, PUSHED BEAR OFF WALL: I run over to the bear and the first thing I think to do is to push the bear off the ledge it's standing on and it will hopefully release my dog, and somehow thank god it works. Do not push bears. Do not get close to bears. You do not want to get unlucky. I just happen to come out unscathed.


CHURCH: Yes, so brave. But as she said herself, very lucky.

Thank you so much for your company. I'm Rosemary Church. Be sure to connect with me any time on Twitter @rosemaryCNN. "EARLY START" is up next. You're watching CNN. Have a great day.