US journalist Danny Fenster arrives in NY after Myanmar release

Fenster says he will celebrate release with family then turn attention to helping people still imprisoned in Myanmar.

Danny Fenster, centre, hugs his mother Rose Fenster as former US diplomat Bill Richardson looks on at John F Kennedy airport in New York, on November 16, 2021 [Seth Wenig/AP Photo]

US journalist Danny Fenster, who was freed from military-controlled Myanmar after nearly six months in prison, has returned to the United States, saying he will advocate for journalists and political prisoners who remain behind bars.

Fenster landed at New York’s John F Kennedy International Airport on Tuesday after being released in Myanmar a day earlier. He said he felt “incredible” after being freed.

“I’m going take time to celebrate and spend time with my family and then continue concentrating on all the other not just journalists and prisoners of conscience in Myanmar and everywhere else … in Myanmar, just a lot of citizens, doctors, teachers that are in prison right now,” Fenster said at a news conference.

Fenster was sentenced last week to 11 years in prison, but was freed suddenly on Monday and flew to the US with former American diplomat Bill Richardson, who helped negotiate his release. Fenster had also been charged with sedition and “terrorism”, but those trials had not yet started.

The journalist was the managing editor for Frontier Myanmar magazine, which has an English news and current affairs website, at the time of his arrest.

“It’s about this right here,” Fenster said as he hugged family members including father Buddy, mother Rose and brother Bryan, who are from the Detroit area.

During a stop in Doha on Monday night, Richardson, who also served as governor of New Mexico and as US secretary of energy, attributed the military’s abrupt release of Fenster to “efforts to work with the government of Myanmar on humanitarian assistance, on vaccines”.

In New York, Richardson credited a “collaborative effort” involving advocacy groups, US lawmakers, administration officials and Fenster’s family for ending the journalist’s detention.

“I believe that we have to engage our adversaries, no matter how different our philosophies are … The way you deal with issues that divide nations is through humanitarian efforts before political differences,” Richardson said. “I think that is fundamental.”

Myanmar’s generals seized power from the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi in February. Since then, military authorities have cracked down on protests and dissent, killing some 1,269 people and arresting more than 10,000, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, an advocacy group monitoring the situation.

Fenster was one of dozens of journalists who have been imprisoned since the military takeover.

The generals have claimed that the power grab was necessary because of alleged election fraud. On Tuesday, Aung San Suu Kyi and other former officials, were charged with election fraud over the 2020 vote. International monitors at the time said the elections were largely free and fair, while the elections commission said there was no evidence of fraud.

Congressman Andy Levin, a Michigan Democrat who represents the Fenster family in the House of Representatives, called the journalist’s arrival in the US a “beautiful day”.

“Danny lifts up all those imprisoned – not just journalists, but doctors, teachers. He insists our work is just beginning. So inspiring,” Levin wrote on Twitter.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) welcomed Fenster’s release on Monday, and called on the authorities in Myanmar to release other journalists who remain in jail.

“Myanmar authorities should follow this gesture with the immediate release of the dozens of other journalists held in prison merely for doing their job of reporting the news.” Steven Butler, CPJ’s Asia programme coordinator, said in a statement.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies