Former Daily Iberian reporter Danny Fenster arrived today in New York and was reunited with his family after being released after nearly six months in prison in Myanmar.
Fenster, who was sented to 11 years of hard labor last week by a military court on charges of spreading false or inflammatory information, contacting illegal organizations and violating visa regulations. A military junta runs the country.
Fenster, the managing editor of online magazine Frontier Myanmar, was handed over to former U.S. diplomat Bill Richardson, who helped negotiate his release. Fenster 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.
Fenster’s mother, Rose, rushed to hug him as he left a car outside an airport hotel, with his father, Buddy, and brother, Bryan also greeting him, according to the Associated Press.
It’s been a “long time coming, a moment I had been imagining so intensely for so long,” Fenster said after landing in New York. “Surpasses everything I had imagined.”
It “feels great to get Danny back home. It’s worth the effort, worth everything we did,” Richardson, a former governor of New Mexico and past ambassador to the United Nations who helped negotiate the release through his foundation, said Tuesday.
Fenster had been in detention since he was arrested at Yangon International Airport on May 24.
The exact allegations against him were never clear, but much of the prosecution’s case appeared to hinge on proving that he was employed by another online news site that was ordered closed this year during the crackdown on the media that followed the military takeover. Fenster used to work for the site but left that job last year.
A native of the Detroit area, Fenster has a master’s degree in creative writing from Wayne State University and was an award-winning writer for The Daily Iberian before moving to Southeast Asia, according to Deadline Detroit, a news website to which he occasionally contributed.
His brother, Bryan, has said he was particularly interested in the plight of people from the Muslim Rohingya minority, hundreds of thousands of whom fled Myanmar during a brutal counterinsurgency campaign by the army in 2017.
According to the AP, the generals in Myanmar “were convinced that it wasn’t worth it to hang on to Danny,” U.S. Rep. Andy Levin of Michigan, who represents the Fenster family in Congress, told Detroit radio station WWJ. “If they kept him and anything really happened to him, we would never forget it. We would never forgive them.”