Journalist Danny Fenster has been freed from Myanmar jail
US journalist Danny Fenster has been released from prison in Myanmar after he was sentenced to 11 years in jail by a military court three days ago. Danny Fenster was detained at Yangon international airport in May. Fenster’s release follows months of behind-the-scenes pressure from the US government
His employer, English-language news site Frontier Myanmar, said he was on a flight out of Myanmar.
Junta spokesperson Major-Gen Zaw Min Tun confirmed to the BBC that he would be allowed to leave the country.
Fenster, who was Frontier’s managing editor, was detained in May as he was about to fly back to the US.
He is one of dozens of journalists, and thousands of people overall, to be held since a military coup in February.
Fenster had been convicted of breaching immigration law, unlawful association and encouraging dissent against the military.
Then last week he was hit with two additional charges of sedition and terrorism, which carry a maximum term of life imprisonment.
Fenster’s release appears to have been negotiated by former US ambassador and hostage negotiator Bill Richardson, who is in Myanmar.
Mr Richardson said in a statement that Fenster would fly home via Qatar.
“This is the day that you hope will come when you do this work,” he said. “We are so grateful that Danny will finally be able to reconnect with his loved ones, who have been advocating for him all this time, against immense odds.”
According to Frontier, Fenster had previously worked for Myanmar Now, an independent news site that has been critical of the military since the coup.
“The charges were all based on the allegation that he was working for banned media outlet Myanmar Now. Danny had resigned from Myanmar Now in July 2020 and joined Frontier the following month, so at the time of his arrest in May 2021 he had been working with Frontier for more than nine months,” said the news site.
“There is absolutely no basis to convict Danny of these charges.”
In a statement before the sentencing, the US state department commented that “the profoundly unjust nature of Danny’s detention is plain for all the world to see. The regime should take the prudent step of releasing him now”.
It is always difficult to guess the motives of Myanmar’s reclusive military rulers; never more so than in their treatment of Danny Fenster.
He was arrested when about to board a flight back to the US in May, although he had committed no obvious crime. He was charged with offences relating to a news organisation he had left almost a year before, an apparent error pointed out by his lawyers in court.
He was excluded from an amnesty of more than 5,000 prisoners last month, and last week he was not only convicted and given an 11-year jail sentence, but had two more serious charges filed against him.
His sudden release follows months of quiet pressure by the Biden administration, and a recent visit to Myanmar by the veteran US diplomat Bill Richardson. It is unclear, though, whether the US made any concessions to win Danny Fenster’s release.
The sanctions targeting members of the military junta and their associates are still in place. Dozens of local journalists remain in custody, along with thousands of other political prisoners. There is no suggestion yet that they too might be freed.
Myanmar’s military leaders seized power in February after suffering a massive election defeat at the hands of the ruling National League of Democracy.
They said they had been forced into the move by widespread vote fraud, although the country’s election commission said there was no evidence to support such claims.
Mass civilian protests rose up across the country, and were brutally suppressed by the military.
Since then, at least 1,260 people have been killed and 7,251 are under detention in a crackdown on dissent, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP).
Around 80 local journalists are known to have been detained for their reporting so far. According to the AAPP, 50 of them are still in detention and half have been prosecuted. BBC