American journalist Danny Fenster released from jail in Myanmar
American journalist Danny Fenster has been freed from prison in Myanmar, according to a Myanmar military official and former New Mexico governor Bill Richardson, who had been on a private humanitarian visit to the country.
Fenster’s release comes just days after the former managing editor of Frontier Myanmar — an independent news outlet that covered current affairs, business and politics — was sentenced to 11 years in prison by a military court in Myanmar.
Myanmar’s military spokesperson Zaw Min Tun told CNN Business that the journalist “has been released and deported. We will release details why he was released later.”
According to a statement released by Richardson on Monday, Fenster will be making his way back to the United States “through Qatar, over the next day and a half.”
A former US ambassador to the United Nations, Richardson said he had conducted face-to-face negotiations with Min Aung Hlaing, the leader of Myanmar’s military junta.
Fenster’s family said they were “overjoyed” at his release.
“We cannot wait to hold him in our arms,’ they said in a statement. ” We are tremendously grateful to all the people who have helped secure his release, especially Ambassador Richardson, as well as our friends and the public who have expressed their support and stood by our sides as we endured these long and difficult months.”
Speaking to reporters after he landed in Doha to transit, Fenster said he was physically healthy and he “wasn’t starved or beaten” while in prison.
“I am feeling alright physically, it’s just the same privation that comes with any form of incarceration, you just go a little stir crazy and the longer it drags on the more worried you are that it’s just never going to end. That was the biggest concern just staying through that,” he said.
Fenster was one of about 126 journalists or media workers detained since the coup, according to the United Nations. About 47 remain behind bars.
He said he wants to keep the focus on the other journalists still detained in Myanmar “and do everything we can to lobby on their behalf. We are still trying very hard and hoping we can get them out of there.”
Fenster, a 37-year-old from Detroit, Michigan, was arrested at Yangon International Airport on May 24 while he was trying to leave the country to visit his family in the United States. He had been denied bail and was held in Insein Prison in Yangon. On Friday, he was found guilty of three charges brought against him by the Myanmar military, which seized control of the country in a coup on February 1.
Those charges included visa breaches, unlawful association with an illegal group and incitement under section 505a of Myanmar’s Penal Code, which makes it a crime to publish or circulate comments that “cause fear” or spread “false news.” He was also charged with sedition and terrorism offenses.
Sonny Swe, Publisher, CEO and co-founder of Frontier Myanmar, Fenster’s former employer in Myanmar, told CNN Business on the phone that Fenster was already on a plane having left Insein prison earlier in the day.
“I’m very, very pleased to hear about the news. Not only our happiness, I’ve been there before, I know how Danny and the family will be feeling right now,” Swe said. “From this point onwards, it’s all positive. He deserves to be reunited with his family.”
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement, “we welcome the release of American journalist Daniel Fenster from prison in Burma, where he was wrongfully detained for almost six months.”
“We are glad that Danny will soon be reunited with his family as we continue to call for the release of others who remain unjustly imprisoned in Burma,’ he said, using another name for the country.
Since the military seized power, more than 1,260 people have been killed by junta forces and 10,000 people have been arrested, with widespread reports of torture and abuse, according to advocacy group Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.
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