American journalist Danny Fenster freed in Myanmar, returning to U.S.

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Nov. 15 (UPI) — American journalist Danny Fenster, who was sentenced last week to 11 years in a Myanmar prison, was freed Monday with help from former U.S. diplomat Bill Richardson and will return soon to the United States.

Fenster, who’d worked in Myanmar as an online magazine editor, was sentenced by a military court on Friday for purportedly spreading false and inflammatory information. He’s the managing editor of Frontier Myanmar, but the charges claimed that he’d also been working for banned news outlet Myanmar Now.

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The Richardson Center, founded by the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and New Mexico governor, announced Fenster’s release.

“I would like to especially thank our long-term partner, the government of Qatar, without whose consistent support our work would not be possible,” Richardson said in a statement.

“We are overjoyed that Danny has been released and is on his way home — we cannot wait to hold him in our arms,” Fenster’s family said in a tweet. “We are tremendously grateful to all the people who have helped secure his release, especially Gov. 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.”

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Richardson’s office said Fenster was en route to the United States.

Officials said Richardson met directly with Myanmar Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, who’s led Myanmar’s junta government since the military takeover in February. Fenster was released to Richardson on Monday following a “private humanitarian visit.”

Fenster’s conviction was based on charges that he worked for Myanmar Now after the military coup on Feb. 1, even though his attorneys provided evidence in court that he left Myanmar Now for Frontier Myanmar in July 2020, seven months before the junta took control of the government.

He was the first foreign journalist to be imprisoned in Myanmar for a serious offense under the junta government.

The U.S. State Department issued a strongly worded statement against Myanmar’s punishment for Fenster, who’d been in custody since May.

“The [Myanmar] military regime’s sentencing of U.S. journalist Danny Fenster is an unjust conviction of an innocent person,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement after Fenster’s sentencing on Friday.

“[We] will continue to work for his immediate release. We will do so until Danny returns home safely to his family.”