U.S. journalist jailed in Myanmar for nearly 6 months is freed

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  • American journalist Danny Fenster, who was sentenced to 11 years of hard labor after spending nearly six months in prison in military-ruled Myanmar, has been released.
  • Fenster, the managing editor of Frontier Myanmar, was convicted on Friday of spreading false or inflammatory information, contacting illegal organizations and violating visa rules.
  • Bill Richardson, the former governor of New Mexico and former ambassador to the United Nations, helped negotiate his release.

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US journalist Danny Fenster, who was recently sentenced to 11 years of hard labor after spending nearly six months in prison in militarized Myanmar, was released and on his way home on Monday, a former US diplomat helped negotiate the release.

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Fenster, the managing editor of the online magazine Frontier Myanmar, was convicted on Friday of spreading false or inflammatory information, contacting illegal organizations and violating visa rules. His sentence was the harshest of seven journalists convicted since the military ousted the elected government of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi in February.

“This is the day you hope will come when you do this work,” Bill Richardson, the former governor of New Mexico and former ambassador to the United Nations, said in a statement emailed by his office. “We are so grateful that Danny will finally be able to be reunited with his loved ones, who are advocating for him at this time against the overwhelming odds.”

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According to the statement, Fenster was handed over to Richardson in Myanmar and will return to the US via Qatar in the next day and a half. He has been in custody since being detained at Yangon International Airport on May 24 as he was on his way to the Detroit area in the United States to see his family.

“We are delighted that Danny has been released and is on his way home – we can’t wait to hold him in our arms,” ​​his family said in a statement. “We are deeply grateful to all those who have helped secure his release, particularly Ambassador Richardson, as well as our friends and the public who have expressed their support and stood by our side during these long and difficult months. are.”

It was never clear what Fenster was accused of doing, but the prosecutor’s case relies on proving he was employed by another online news site that the media had been accused of following the military’s seizure this year. But during the course of action, closure was ordered. , Fenster used to work for the site but left that job last year.

According to the United Nations, the military has detained at least 126 journalists, media executives or publishers since the takeover and 47 remain in custody, though not all of them have been charged.

Of the seven journalists who have been convicted, six are citizens of Myanmar and four were released in a mass amnesty in October.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, using an old name for the Southeast Asian country, said in a statement: “We welcome the release of American journalist Daniel Fenster from a prison in Burma, where he was wrongfully held for nearly six months. was kept in custody.” “We are delighted that Danny will be reunited with his family soon as we continue to demand the release of others unjustly imprisoned in Burma.”

Thomas Keane, editor-in-chief of Frontier Myanmar, echoed those sentiments.

“Danny is one of many journalists in Myanmar who have been unjustly arrested for doing their job since the coup in February,” he said.

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

Richardson is known to have traveled to countries with which Washington has poor relations, if any, such as North Korea – to seek the freedom of detained Americans. Recently he has been involved in the demand for freedom for American citizens detained in Venezuela.

She also has a long history of affiliation with Myanmar, when as a member of the US Congress in 1994 she met Suu Kyi at her home, where she was under house arrest on the orders of the previous military government.

In an interview with the Associated Press following his recent visit to Myanmar, Richardson said his talks focused on facilitating humanitarian aid to the country, particularly the provision of COVID-19 vaccines. That mission also resulted in the release from prison of Ai Mo, a young woman who worked for Richardson’s center on women’s empowerment issues.

At the time, Richardson said his staff had been in contact with Fenster’s family, and when asked by the AP whether Danny Fenster’s release was expected, he replied: “There’s always hope. Don’t ask any more.”

Sean Crispin, Southeast Asia’s representative for the Committee to Protect Journalists, said Fenster “should never have been jailed or sentenced on false charges in the first place.”

“Myanmar’s military regime must stop using journalists as pawns in its cynical games and release all other journalists who are still behind bars on false charges,” Crispin said.

During Fenster’s trial, prosecution witnesses testified that they were informed by a letter from the Ministry of Information that its records show that Fenster continued to be employed this year by the online news site Myanmar Now – dozens One of the outlets ordered the closure in a press action.

Both his former and current employers issued public statements that Fenster left Myanmar last year, and his lawyer said the defense’s testimony, as well as income tax receipts, established that he works for Frontier Myanmar. But without the testimony of a government official to this effect, the judge only took into account the letter from the Ministry of Information.

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