American journalist Danny Fenster was released on Monday, just three days after a Burmese court sentenced him to 11 years in prison for inciting dissent and violating immigration and association laws. The person in charge of the negotiations for his release has been the former US diplomat Bill Richardson, who met for that purpose with the head of the ruling military junta, General Min Aung Hlaing. The spokesman for the military junta Zaw Min Tun was in charge of concisely announcing this Monday the favorable outcome for Fenster: “He has been released and deported. Details will be confirmed later. ” Fenster’s family has confirmed through their social networks that the editor-in-chief of the independent magazine Frontier Myanmar He is already on a plane back to the United States.
“This is one of those days you look forward to when you dedicate yourself to this profession,” said Bill Richardson, a former United States representative to the United Nations, who has a long history of success helping American prisoners out of jails in countries that Washington considers autocratic. The diplomat was in Myanmar on a humanitarian visit. On November 2, he met with General Min Aung Hlaing in a meeting that laid the groundwork for last weekend’s negotiations and the journalist’s release.
“We are very satisfied that Danny can finally reconnect with his loved ones, who have been defending him all this time, fighting against all adversities,” added the Richardson Center on its official Twitter account.
“This is the day that you hope will come when you do this work,” said Governor Richardson. “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.”
— Richardson Center (@RichardsonCNTR) November 15, 2021
On Friday, a Burmese court found Fenster guilty of incitement to dissent for spreading “false and provocative news”, as well as illegal association and violation of visa regulations. For this verdict, he was given the most severe sentence, 11 years. A new trial for sedition and terrorism was scheduled to begin on Tuesday, charges that had been added last Wednesday without the authorities giving his defense team, led by lawyer Than Zaw Aung, no argument. Conviction for the latter crimes could have earned him an additional 20 years of imprisonment. The United States has been pressing for his release since a ruling that the White House called an “unacceptable attack on freedom of expression.”
Bryan Fenster, Danny’s brother, confirmed this Monday on his Twitter account that the journalist was already flying back to his hometown, Detroit (Michigan, USA): “Day 176! We are very happy that Danny has been released and that he is on his way home; we really want to hug you. We express our deep appreciation to those who have helped us, especially Bill Richardson. ” Madeleine Mahony, press director of the former diplomat’s office who served as negotiator, has announced that the two will land in the United States on Tuesday, on a flight from Qatar.
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Fenster, 37, was arrested on May 24 at Rangoon International Airport as he was about to board a plane to Detroit to visit his family. After being denied bail, he was held in Insein prison, the largest in the country. The accusation against the journalist started from some articles he published in the digital Myanmar Now, a medium in which Fenster had not worked since July 2020.
“It’s a relief to us that Danny is finally out of prison – a place he shouldn’t have been to -” Fenster’s current employer Thomas Kean said in a statement. The editor-in-chief of Frontier Myanmar He added that the American reporter is one of many journalists who have been unjustifiably arrested since last February 1, when the Burmese Army, the Tatmadaw, he deposed the democratically elected government of the Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung Saan Suu Kyi.
Myanmar has been in chaos and instability ever since. According to the Association for the Assistance to Political Prisoners, 1,260 people have died in the country during protests condemning the coup by the military junta and 7,251 have been detained, most of them accused of dissent. According to statistics provided by the United Nations, at least 126 journalists or media workers have been deprived of their liberty, 80 of whom are Burmese. Fenster was the first foreign journalist sentenced to prison in the country since the coup.
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