American journalist Danny Fenster released from Myanmar prison

Danny fenster , an American journalist imprisoned for six months by the Burmese junta, was released Monday in the custody of Bill Richar...

Danny fenster, an American journalist imprisoned for six months by the Burmese junta, was released Monday in the custody of Bill Richardson, the former American diplomat who helped secure his freedom, and they left the country for the States- United.

The release of Mr Fenster, 37, who was sentenced Friday to 11 years in prison and faced with the possibility of 40 additional years on nebulous charges, is a rare positive development in Myanmar. The Southeast Asian country of 54 million people has been torn by violence since the the army staged a coup in February and began a brutal crackdown on pro-democracy protesters.

“This is the day you hope to come when you do this work,” said Mr. Richardson, the former United States ambassador to the United Nations, who has long won the release of American prisoners from autocratic countries. “We are so grateful that Danny can finally reconnect with his loved ones, who have been defending him all this time, against all odds.”

Mr. Richardson had met the head of the junta, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, just two weeks ago, the first prominent Western envoy to visit since the coup. He has returned home in recent days and was returning to the United States with Mr Fenster, who had been in jail since May.

During a stopover in Qatar on his way home, Fenster told reporters he had been “arrested and held captive for no reason” but was in good physical health. “I was not starved or beaten,” he said according to press services.

It was not clear on Monday what, if any, had been promised to the junta in exchange for his release.

After his meeting on November 2 with General Min Aung Hlaing, Mr Richardson said he did not raise the issue of Mr Fenster’s release but had sought to lay the groundwork for future discussions. Madeleine Mahony, director of media relations for Mr. Richardson, said Mr. Richardson and Mr. Fenster were due to arrive in the United States on Tuesday.

A court convicted Fenster of disseminating information that could harm the military, unlawfully associating with opponents of the regime and violating immigration law. He gave him the maximum possible sentence of 11 years.

Mr. Fenster is the editor of Frontier Myanmar magazine. The prosecution based its case on his previous employment with the Myanmar Now online news site, which the regime banned. Mr Fenster left Myanmar Now in July 2020, more than six months before the coup, but the court still found him guilty.

His family said they were “delighted” that he was going home.

“We can’t wait to have him in our arms,” ​​the Fenster family said in a statement. “We are extremely grateful to everyone who helped secure his release, especially Ambassador Richardson, as well as to our friends and the public who have expressed their support and have stood by our side during these long and difficult. month.”

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken congratulated administration officials and Mr. Richardson, former congressman and governor of New Mexico, for securing Mr. Fenster’s release.

“We are happy that Danny is soon reunited with his family as we continue to call for the release of the others unjustly imprisoned in Burma,” said Mr Blinken, using the country’s old name.

An article posted on the army’s Facebook page stated that Mr. Fenster had been released on “humanitarian grounds” at the request of Mr. Richardson and representatives of two Japanese organizations linked to Myanmar, Yohei Sasakawa, chairman of the Nippon Foundation , and Hideo Watanabe. , president of the Japan Myanmar Association.

The message also included photos of Mr Fenster – wearing shorts, sandals, an orange cap and a face mask – signing a document as a police colonel and a police lieutenant, in uniform, stood overhead from him.

Mr Fenster is one of more than 120 journalists who have been arrested since the coup. About four dozen remain in prison. Another American journalist, Nathan Maung, co-founder of the online news site Kamayut Media, was arrested in March and released two months later.

Frontier Myanmar, who had supported Fenster throughout his imprisonment and trial, thanked those who helped free him. “We are relieved that Danny is finally out of jail – a place he never should have been in the first place,” said Thomas Kean, editor.

“We also recognize that Danny is one of many journalists in Myanmar who have been wrongfully arrested just for doing their job,” Kean said. “We call on the military regime to release all journalists who remain behind bars in Myanmar. “

Mr. Fenster was arrested on May 24 at Yangon International Airport as he prepared to board a plane and leave the country. The authorities had been looking for “responsible editors” who have worked for Myanmar Now, the newspaper reported. Mr. Fenster’s name was on that list.

During his nearly six months of detention, Mr Fenster was held at the center for 134 years Insein Prison, where the military has long sent political prisoners. The colonial-era penitentiary is known for its poor conditions, mistreatment, and inedible food. Mr Fenster contracted Covid-19 in prison and has recovered, his family said.

Prosecutors last week filed additional charges of terrorism and sedition against Mr Fenster, both of which carry up to 20 years in prison. His lawyer said he had no idea what the basis for these charges was.

Mr. Fenster’s trial took place inside the prison; no parents or members of the public were allowed to attend. He broke down in tears when the verdict was announced, his lawyer said.

The obsolete list of publishers provided by the Ministry of Information was the centerpiece of the evidence. His lawyer presented his Frontier Myanmar employment record and tax return, but the court rejected the defense argument that Mr. Fenster was not guilty because he no longer worked for Myanmar Now.

The charges of disseminating potentially damaging information and of illegal association were based on reports released by Myanmar Now. The immigration charge, added towards the end of the court proceedings, was based on the claim that Mr Fenster had violated the terms of his visa by breaking other laws.

Since the military took power in the February 1 coup, it has been ruthless in its crackdown on street protests and opposition leaders. At least 1,260 people have been killed and more than 7,200 detained, according to a rights group.

The de facto civilian head of the country, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, was arrested on the morning of the coup and is currently on trial on 10 counts, including inciting public unrest and violating the Law on Official Secrets. A verdict is expected on some of the charges in mid-December. His trial is also closed to the public, and the court has ordered his lawyers not to speak to the media about the case.

Thomas H. Andrews, UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, last month urged member countries to deny the junta the money, weapons and legitimacy it needs to stay in power. He also warned of further violence and the potential for “more crimes of mass atrocities”.

“I desperately hope I am wrong,” he said.

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Newsrust - US Top News: American journalist Danny Fenster released from Myanmar prison
American journalist Danny Fenster released from Myanmar prison
Newsrust - US Top News
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