US journalist Danny Fenster has been released from a prison in Myanmar, three days after he was sentenced to 11 years behind bars for what Yangon said were breaches of immigration and “terrorism” laws, his employer and a former United States ambassador to the United Nations have confirmed.
Bill Richardson, the former US diplomat, said on Monday that Fenster had been handed over to him in Myanmar and would soon be on his way home via Qatar.
“This is the day that you hope will come when you do this work,” Richardson 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.”
Richardson said he negotiated Fenster’s release during a recent visit to Myanmar when he held face-to-face meetings with Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, Myanmar’s military ruler.
The publisher of Frontier Myanmar, the online magazine Fenster had worked for before his arrest, also confirmed the release. Meanwhile, a government source told the AFP news agency that Fenster “is being taken” to the capital Naypyidaw from Yangon and will be deported.
Frontier Magazine later reported that Fenster was on a flight out of the country.
“Great news. I heard @DannyFenster is out,” Sonny Swe, the publisher of Frontier Myanmar, tweeted on Monday.
The magazine’s editor-in-chief, Thomas Kean, welcomed Fenster’s release, calling for the country’s military rulers to release all journalists still behind bars.
“Danny is one of many journalists in Myanmar who have been unjustly arrested simply for doing their job since the February coup,” he said.
Fenster, 37, was working as the managing editor of Frontier Myanmar when he was arrested and convicted on Friday of spreading false or inflammatory information, contacting illegal organisations and violating visa regulations.
The charges were connected to a claim that Fenster was working for Myanmar Now, a different online news service whose publishing licence had been revoked, even though he left the outlet in June 2020.
Frontier Myanmar said the court had disregarded key evidence, including tax records, that confirmed Fenster was working at the magazine.
‘Deeply flawed case’
Fenster’s sentence was the harshest punishment yet among the seven journalists known to have been convicted since the military detained elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi and seized power in February.
The move prompted waves of protests and civil disobedience that have been met with violence from the ruling generals.
In early November, the head of the UN’s Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar has said evidence of the military’s attacks on civilians, and detention of journalists, medical workers and political opponents amount to “crimes against humanity“.
To date, at least 1,250 people have been killed in the unrest and more than 10,000 have been detained, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, which has been monitoring the situation.
Since taking power, the military has also imposed internet blackouts, shut down satellite television and revoked media the publishing licences of a number of independent Myanmar news organisations including, Myanmar Now.
About 100 journalists have been detained since February, with about 30 remaining in jail.
Prior to Fenster’s arrest, the military had overwhelmingly targeted local journalists, while largely overlooking foreign nationals.
A US State Department spokesman had previously condemned Fenster’s imprisonment as the “unjust conviction of an innocent person”.
Meanwhile, Ming Yu Hah, Amnesty International’s deputy regional director for campaigns, called the conviction a “reprehensible outcome” in a “deeply flawed case”.