American journalist Danny Fenster, who was freed after nearly six months in jail in military-ruled Myanmar, arrived Tuesday in the United States for an emotional reunion with his family.
Fenster, who was sentenced last week to 11 years of hard labor, was handed over Monday to former U.S. 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.
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 over to hug him as he stepped out of a car at the airport. His brother and father also embraced him.
While jailed, Fenster told his lawyer that he believed he had COVID-19, though prison authorities denied that. Late Monday, as he transited through Qatar, he told reporters that he was physically OK and had not been starved or beaten while in custody.
Fenster, the managing editor of online magazine Frontier Myanmar, was convicted Friday of spreading false or inflammatory information, contacting illegal organizations 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,” Richardson, a former governor of New Mexico and past ambassador to the United Nations, said in a statement on Monday.
His mother 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.
Fenster has been in detention since he was arrested at Yangon International Airport on May 24.
The exact allegations against Fenster 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.