Huntington Woods journalist Danny Fenster freed from Myanmar jail days after sentencing
After nearly six months in jail in military-ruled Myanmar, Michigan's Danny Fenster was freed Monday.
Fenster, the managing editor of online magazine Frontier Myanmar, was sentenced to 11 years of hard labor Friday but had his release negotiated by former U.S. diplomat Bill Richardson. Fenster was convicted of spreading false or inflammatory information, contacting illegal organizations and violating visa regulations.
“I’m feeling all right physically,” Fenster told journalists after landing in Doha, Qatar, which he passed through on his way home, according to the Associated Press. "It’s just the same privations and things that come with any form of incarceration. ... The longer it drags on, the more worried you are that it’s just never going to end.:
He said he was not starved or beaten while in custody and was “happy to be on my way home.”
"We are OVERJOYED that Danny has been released and is on his way home — we cannot wait to hold him in our arms," the family said in a statement on Facebook. "We are tremendously grateful to all the people who have helped secure his release, especially Ambassador Richardson, as well as our friends, family and the public who have expressed their support and stood by our sides as we endured these long and difficult months."
Fenster has been held in Insein Prison in Yangon, Myanmar, located in southeast Asia, since his arrest at Yangon International Airport on May 24. With Richardson, Fenster flew out of Myanmar to Qatar on Monday.
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He is one of more than 100 journalists, media officials or publishers who have been detained since the military ousted the elected government of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi in February.
"When Danny cleared Burmese airspace and we knew he was free, this was probably the happiest moment of my time in Congress," said U.S. Rep. Andy Levin, D-Bloomfield Township, in a statement.
The Fenster family declined further comment, but said they were currently arranging Danny's homecoming.
"What wonderful news that Huntington Woods native (Fenster) is on his way home," said Oakland County Executive Dave Coulter in a statement. "So much to be thankful for, from the persistence of Danny’s family Rose, Bud and Bryan Fenster, to the negotiating skills of Bill Richardson to the perseverance of Danny Fenster, a journalist who never should have been arrested for doing his job.”
In the Michigan Legislature, Sen. Jeremy Moss, D-Southfield and Rep. Regina Weiss, D-Oak Park, introduced bills in June to push for Fenster's return home.
“This is the moment we’ve been waiting for. Many voices from our community shared Danny's story over these last 176 days, making sure the efforts to secure his release were fueled and energized,” Moss said in a statement. “I've been in awe of the resilience, tenacity and strength of the Fenster family during this uncertain time. They’ve had our love and support, and we’re all thrilled to join them to welcome Danny home.”
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State Department spokesman Ned Price opened the daily briefing Monday with a statement welcoming the release of Fenster and commending the efforts of those involved inside and outside government — including Richardson — for the role they played in the release.
He said Roger Carstens, the special presidential envoy for hostage affairs, will be in New York on Tuesday morning when Fenster lands in the U.S.
Earlier this month, State Department officials had noted that Richardson’s efforts were his own and not at the request of the U.S. government but that they hoped he could convince officials in Myanmar to allow for the aid for the COVID-19 pandemic and other needs to be brought in. The AP reported that the U.S., like other Western nations, hadn’t made any direct diplomatic overtures to the country because it did not want to appear as if it were recognizing the legitimacy of the military’s seizing power.
At Monday’s daily briefing, Price pushed back on a question from a reporter that asked whether the Biden administration itself had not prioritized the release of Fenster and other people being held by foreign governments.
“Danny was in custody for nearly six months,” Price said. “From the moment the embassy learned of his detention … the department has been actively engaged at all levels to see his unjust detention come to an end.
“It is something we welcome and we commend everyone who has been part of that effort,” he said.
He offered no additional details about what led to the release and said he was unaware of any conditions attached to Fenster’s release. He reiterated that Richardson, who has served as a kind of freelance negotiator in recent years, “was acting on his own” but that the U.S. government had been in regular contact with him. “This has been a constant, nonstop effort,” Price said. “Something we have prioritized as you would expect us to prioritize.”
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken echoed similar sentiments in a statement Monday morning.
"We welcome the release of American journalist (Fenster) from prison in Burma, where he was wrongfully detained for almost six months," the statement reads. "We are glad that Danny will soon be reunited with his family as we continue to call for the release of others who remain unjustly imprisoned in Burma."
Sen. Gary Peters pressed Biden administration officials to ensure Fenster was not forgotten and to work for his safe release. Peters was among the cosponsors to introduce Senate Bill 2937, to promote democracy and human rights in response to violations in Myanmar.
“At long last: Danny is coming home," Peters said in a statement. "Danny was doing incredible work telling the stories of the Burmese people — and his unjust detention was an attack on the freedom of the press.
“To the Fenster family: I’m very happy to say that Danny is finally on his way back to your loving arms.
“To Danny: welcome back home to Michigan.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Contact Miriam Marini: firstname.lastname@example.org
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Journalist Danny Fenster freed from Myanmar jail days after sentencing