Danny Fenster, an American journalist who was recently sentenced to 11 years of hard labor after spending over six months in prison in military-run Myanmar, was released and was on his way home on Monday, according to a former US ambassador who assisted in the negotiations.
Fenster, the managing editor of the Frontier Myanmar online magazine, was found guilty on Friday of disseminating false or provocative material, contacting unlawful groups, and breaking visa requirements. His punishment was the heaviest of the seven journalists known to have been convicted after the military deposed Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi’s civilian administration in February.
In a statement issued by his office, Bill Richardson, a former governor of New Mexico and former ambassador to the United Nations, said, “This is the day that you hope will come when you do this job.” “We are overjoyed that Danny will finally be reunited with his loved ones, who have been fighting for him against all obstacles for so long.”
According to the statement, Fenster was given over to Richardson in Myanmar and would travel to the United States via Qatar in the following day and a half. He has been detained since May 24, when he was apprehended at Yangon International Airport on his way to meet his family in the Detroit region of the United States.
In a statement, Danny’s family stated, “We are happy that Danny has been discharged and is on his way home – we cannot wait to embrace him in our arms.” “We are very thankful to everyone who has assisted in his release, particularly Ambassador Richardson, as well as our friends and the general public who have shown their support and stood by our sides over these long and painful months.”
It was never clear what exactly Fenster was accused of doing, but much of the prosecution’s case seemed to rest on showing that he worked for another online news site that was shut down earlier this year as part of a media crackdown following the military’s seizure of power. Fenster had worked on the website but left it last year.
According to the United Nations, the military has imprisoned at least 126 journalists, media professionals, or publishers since the takeover, with 47 still in jail, though not all of them have been prosecuted.
Six of the seven convicted journalists are Myanmar natives, while four were released in a huge amnesty in October.
“We celebrate the release of American journalist Daniel Fenster from jail in Burma, where he had been unlawfully incarcerated for over six months,” said US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in a statement, referring to the Southeast Asian country by its previous name. “We are pleased that Danny will soon be reunited with his family, and we will continue to press for the release of those in Burma who are being held indefinitely.”
Thomas Kean, the Editor-in-Chief of Frontier Myanmar, reiterated same concerns.
“Since the February takeover, Danny is one of several journalists in Myanmar who have been unfairly jailed for performing their work,” he added.
Richardson claimed he addressed Fenster’s release on a recent trip to Myanmar, when he spoke with Myanmar’s ruler, Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, face to face.
Richardson is most known for traveling to countries with whom the United States has strained ties, such as North Korea, to secure the release of detained Americans. He has recently been active in the fight for the release of American Americans incarcerated in Venezuela.
He also has a long history of connection with Myanmar, dating back to 1994, when he met Suu Kyi at her home, where she had been placed under house arrest by a previous military regime, as a member of the US Congress.
Richardson said his meetings in Myanmar focused on enabling humanitarian assistance, notably the availability of COVID-19 vaccinations, in an interview with The Associated Press after his most recent visit. Aye Moe, a young lady who used to work for Richardson’s center on women’s empowerment problems, was also released from prison as a consequence of that trip.
When questioned by the Associated Press if there was hope for Danny Fenster’s release, Richardson said his staff had been in communication with his family, and when asked if there was, he answered, “There’s always hope.” “Don’t bother asking any more questions.”
Fenster “never should have been detained or convicted on spurious accusations in the first place,” according to Shawn Crispin, Southeast Asia spokesperson for the Committee to Protect Journalists.
“Myanmar’s military rulers must stop using journalists as puppets in their cynical games and free all the other journalists who are currently imprisoned on false allegations,” Crispin continued.
During Fenster’s trial, prosecution witnesses testified that they received a letter from the Information Ministry informing them that the ministry’s records showed that Fenster continued to work for the online news site Myanmar Now this year, despite the fact that it was one of dozens of outlets ordered shut down in a press crackdown.
Fenster’s old and present employers both publicly said that he left Myanmar Now last year, and his lawyer claimed that defense testimony and income tax records proved that he worked for Frontier Myanmar. However, because no government official testified to that effect, the court relied only on the letter from the Information Ministry.