Saturday, October 1, 2022

US journalist imprisoned in Myanmar for almost 6 months released

Authors: Grant Peck and David Rising.

BANGKOK (NWN) – American journalist Danny Fenster, who spent nearly six months in prison in military-run Myanmar and was sentenced to 11 years’ hard labor last week, was released Monday and went home.

Fenster was turned over to former American diplomat Bill Richardson, who was involved in the liberation negotiations, and they landed in Doha, Qatar.

“I feel good physically,” a bearded Fenster in baggy drawstring trousers and a knitted hat said on the runway in comments posted by Al Jazeera. “These are the same privations and the like that are accompanied by imprisonment in any form. You are just going crazy. The longer it goes on, the more you worry that it will never end. So the biggest challenge was staying sane. “

While in prison, Fenster told his lawyer that he believed he had COVID-19, although prison authorities denied this.

Fenster, managing editor of the online magazine Frontier Myanmar, was convicted Friday of spreading false or inflammatory information, contacting illegal organizations and violating visa regulations. Days before his conviction, he learned that he had been charged with additional violations of terrorism and treason laws, which resulted in him facing an even longer prison term.

He is one of more than 100 journalists, media representatives or publishers detained after the military overthrew the elected government of Nobel laureate Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in February in the harshest sentence ever.

“This is the day you hope will come when you do this job,” said Richardson, the former New Mexico governor and former ambassador to the United Nations, in a statement emailed by his office. “We are so grateful that Danny can finally reconnect with his loved ones who have protected him all this time, despite the enormous difficulties.”

Fenster has been in custody since he was arrested at Yangon International Airport on May 24 as he headed to the Detroit area to visit his family.

“We are delighted that Danny has been released and is now on his way home – we cannot wait to hold him in our arms,” his family said in a statement. “We are immensely grateful to all the people who helped secure his release, especially Ambassador Richardson, as well as our friends and the public who showed their support and stood by our side as we went through these long and difficult months.”

The exact charges against Fenster have never been clear, but much of the prosecution’s arguments seem to have relied on evidence that he worked for another news site that was shut down this year during a media crackdown following a military takeover. Fenster used to work at the site but left the job last year.

Fenster, a Detroit native, has a master’s degree in creative writing from Wayne State University and worked for a newspaper in Louisiana before moving to Southeast Asia, according to Deadline Detroit, a news website he has contacted from time to time. …

His brother, Brian Fenster, said he “has a passion for writing about people who are fighting and struggling for social justice,” and was particularly interested in the plight of the Rohingya Muslim minority, hundreds of thousands of whom fled Myanmar during the brutal fight against insurgents. … army campaign in 2017.

Frontier Myanmar editor-in-chief Thomas Keane said Fenster was “one of the many journalists in Myanmar who were unjustly arrested after the February coup simply for doing their job.”

According to the UN, at least 126 journalists, media representatives or publishers have been detained by the military since the capture, and 47 remain in custody, although not all of them have been charged.

In a statement broadcast on state television, the military said Fenster had been released at the request of Richardson and the chairman of the Japan-Myanmar Friendship Association. Japan, unlike the United States and the European Union, does not take a publicly confrontational position with a government established by the military and would like to see an improvement in relations between Myanmar and the West.

Generals in Myanmar “were convinced not to hang on to Danny,” US Representative Andy Levin of Michigan, who represents the Fenster family in Congress, told WWJ Detroit radio station. “He was innocent and only annoyed them. If they left him and something really happened to him, we would never forget it. We will never forgive them. “

Richardson said he discussed Fenster’s release during a recent visit to Myanmar, when he held personal talks with Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, the country’s ruler.

Richardson is known for traveling to countries with which Washington has poor relations, such as North Korea, to gain the freedom of detained Americans.

He also has a long history of relations with Myanmar, dating back to 1994, when, as a member of Congress, he met Suu Kyi at her home, where she was under house arrest at the behest of the previous military government.

Sean Crispin, spokesman for the Committee to Protect Journalists in Southeast Asia, said Fenster “should never have been imprisoned or sentenced on false charges.”

“The military regime in Myanmar must stop using journalists as pawns in its cynical games and free all other reporters still languishing behind bars on trumped-up charges,” added Crispin.


This story has been corrected to reflect that the mass amnesty was not carried out on October 21st. It was held on October 19-20.


Associated Press author John Gambrell from Dubai, United Arab Emirates contributed to this report.

Nation World News Desk
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