US journalist Danny Fenster arrives home after 6 months in jail in Myanmar

American journalist Danny Fenster, who was freed after nearly six months in jail in military-ruled Myanmar, arrived yesterday in the United States for an emotional reunion with his family.

r Fenster, who was 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.

It’s been a “long time coming, a moment I had been imagining so intensely for so long,” a bearded and shaggy-haired Mr Fenster said after landing in New York. “Surpasses everything I had imagined.”

As he exited a car outside an airport hotel, Mr Fenster’s mother rushed over to hug him, as did his brother and father. Late on Monday, as Mr Fenster transited through Qatar, he told reporters that he was physically OK and had not been starved or beaten while in custody.

While jailed, he had told his lawyer that he believed he had Covid-19, though prison authorities denied that.

Mr Fenster, the 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.

It “feels great to get Danny back home. It’s worth the effort, worth everything we did,” said Mr Richardson, a former governor of New Mexico and past ambassador to the United Nations who helped negotiate the release through his foundation.

Mr Fenster’s mother, Rose, described the ordeal as a “nightmare” and the family expressed relief that it was over.

It “feels great, he’s safe, that’s all we want,” his father, Buddy, said.

Mr Fenster  in a knit hat that he said was a gift from another prisoner  joked that the first thing he would do is get a shave and a haircut.

He has 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.

He used to work for the site but left that job last year.

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