American journalist Danny Fenster, who was freed after nearly six months in jail in military-ruled Myanmar, has arrived back in the US for an emotional reunion with his family.
r Fenster, who had been sentenced last week to 11 years of hard labour, was handed over on Monday to former US diplomat Bill Richardson, who helped negotiate the release.
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.
Mr Fenster said it “feels incredible” to be home as he arrived in New York. It’s been a “long time coming, a moment I had been imagining so intensely for so long. Surpasses everything I had imagined”.
His mother Rose rushed to hug him as he stepped out of a car at the airport, and his brother and father also embraced him.
A bearded Mr Fenster said the first thing he will do is get a shave and a haircut.
It “feels great, he’s safe, that’s all we want”, his father Buddy said.
The longer it drags on, the more worried you are that it’s just never going to endDanny Fenster
Mr Fenster said he was feeling physically OK as he passed through Qatar on his way home.
“It’s just the same privations and things that come with any form of incarceration,” he told journalists after landing in Doha.
“The longer it drags on, the more worried you are that it’s just never going to end.”
While jailed, he told his lawyer he believed he had Covid-19, although prison authorities denied it.
Late on Monday, he said he was not starved or beaten in custody and was “happy to be on my way home”.
Hours later he landed in New York, and his mother rushed to hug him as he stepped out of a car.
Mr Fenster, managing editor of online magazine Frontier Myanmar, was convicted on Friday of spreading false or inflammatory information, contacting illegal organisations and violating visa regulations.
Days before his conviction, he learned he had been charged with additional violations that put him at risk of a life sentence.
“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,” said Mr Richardson, a former governor of New Mexico and ambassador to the United Nations.
Mr Fenster has been in detention since he was arrested at Yangon International Airport on May 24.
“We are overjoyed that Danny has been released and is on his way home — we cannot wait to hold him in our arms,” his family said in a statement.
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. Mr Fenster left that job last year.