US journalist Danny Fenster released from prison in Myanmar

Fenster’s employer says he is flying out of the country, days after he was sentenced to 11 years in jail

The US journalist Danny Fenster has been released from prison in military-ruled Myanmar, just days after a closed court sentenced him to 11 years in jail for a series of charges including incitement and visa violations.

Fenster’s employer, Frontier Myanmar, an independent outlet, said on Monday afternoon that he had been released and was on a flight out of the country. Fenster, 37, was arrested in May 2021 at Yangon international airport as he tried to fly back home to Michigan. He had spent five and a half months in prison.

Speaking after arriving in the Qatari capital Doha, Fenster said he wasn’t “starved or beaten” but was worried his ordeal would never end.

Looking gaunt after his six-month imprisonment, said he was held for no reason but not mistreated by the Myanmar authorities.

“I was arrested and held in captivity for no reason... but physically I was healthy,” he told journalists. “I wasn’t starved or beaten.”

“I’m feeling all right physically. It’s just the same privations that come with any form of incarceration. You’re just going a little stir-crazy,” said Fenster, who will fly onwards to the US from Doha.

“The longer it drags on, the more worried you become that it’s never going to end. So that’s the biggest concern, just staying sane through that.”

Fenster’s family thanked those who had helped secure his release, saying: “We are overjoyed that Danny has been released and is on his way home – we cannot wait to hold him in our arms.”

The military in Myanmar has imposed a sweeping crackdown on the media since seizing power in February, stripping publications of their licences and banning outlets from broadcasting. It has detained at least 126 journalists, media officials or publishers, of whom 47 remain in detention, according to the UN.

Fenster is the only foreign journalist to be convicted of a serious offence since the coup.

Frontier’s editor-in-chief, Thomas Kean, said the outlet was relieved that Fenster was finally out of prison, adding that he never should have been arrested. “The Frontier team would like to thank all who worked to secure Danny’s release over the past five and a half months.

“But we also recognise Danny is one of many journalists in Myanmar who have been unjustly arrested simply for doing their job since the February coup. We call on the military regime to release all of the journalists who remain behind bars in Myanmar.”

The former US ambassador to the UN Bill Richardson, who recently visited Myanmar, told the Associated Press news agency he had negotiated Fenster’s release during face-to-face meetings with the junta’s chief, Min Aung Hlaing.

Richardson said in a statement that his team and Fenster would return to the US via Qatar over the next day and a half. “This is the day that you hope will come when you do this work,” Richardson said in a statement. “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.”

Last week Fenster was sentenced to three years for incitement for spreading false or inflammatory information, three years for contacting illegal organisations and five years for violating visa rules.

Fenster had been accused of working for Myanmar Now, a banned media outlet, in the aftermath of the February coup – a claim his employer and lawyer say was countered by tax and social security records, as well as testimony from a Frontier employee. Fenster had resigned from Myanmar Now in July 2020 and joined Frontier Myanmar the next month, Frontier Myanmar said.

He was due to face two further charges under an anti-terrorism act and under a sedition law. Either case could have resulted in a life sentence.

The US, press groups, rights advocates and the UN high commissioner for human rights, Michelle Bachelet, condemned his detention. Bachelet said last week that his trial was “emblematic of the wider plight of journalists in Myanmar who have been facing constant repression since the 1 February military coup”.

Fenster’s family said: “We are tremendously grateful to all the people who have helped secure his release, especially Ambassador Richardson, as well as our friends and the public who have expressed their support and stood by our sides as we endured these long and difficult months.”


Rebecca Ratcliffe South-east Asia correspondent

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Reuters reporters clock up 100 days in Myanmar jail
Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, jailed for reporting on anti-Rohingya violence, reach milestone

Hannah Ellis-Petersen

22, Mar, 2018 @10:42 AM

Article image
Myanmar junta jails US journalist Danny Fenster for 11 years
Frontier editor was accused of working for banned outlet Myanmar Now, from which he had resigned in July 2020, say colleagues

Maung Moe and Rebecca Ratcliffe, South-east Asia correspondent

12, Nov, 2021 @2:14 PM

Article image
Myanmar: pleas for release of Reuters journalists mount
Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were arrested over reporting of massacre against Rohingya

Libby Hogan in Yangon and Hannah Ellis-Petersen

01, Jul, 2018 @5:42 PM

Article image
Myanmar: second NLD official dies in custody as junta cracks down on media
Licences of five independent outlets revoked as military clamps down on coverage of protests

Rebecca Ratcliffe and agencies

09, Mar, 2021 @1:42 PM

Article image
Myanmar protesters freed as military says 5,600 prisoners will be released
Announcement follows junta chief being barred from summit over failure to commit to de-escalation

Maung Moe and Rebecca Ratcliffe, South-east Asia correspondent

18, Oct, 2021 @3:27 PM

Article image
Facebook’s role in Myanmar and Ethiopia under new scrutiny
Whistleblower Frances Haugen adds to long-held concerns that social media site is fuelling violence and instability

Emmanuel Akinwotu

07, Oct, 2021 @5:00 AM

Article image
Chevron and Total withdraw from Myanmar gas project
French energy firm cites worsening human rights for decision in victory for campaigners

Rebecca Ratcliffe South-east Asia correspondent

21, Jan, 2022 @4:11 PM

Article image
Killing of Pakistani anti-corruption journalist sparks protests
Anwar Jan shot dead in home town of Barkhan in Balochistan province

Shah Meer Baloch and Emma Graham-Harrison

03, Aug, 2020 @12:20 PM

Article image
Twitter CEO accused of ignoring plight of Rohingya in tweets promoting Myanmar
Jack Dorsey rhapsodised about 10-day meditation retreat and encouraged his 4 million followers to visit

Alexandra Topping

09, Dec, 2018 @2:57 PM

Article image
UN's top court orders Myanmar to protect Rohingya from genocide
Momentous pronouncement at Hague rejects Aung San Suu Kyi’s defence of her country’s military

Owen Bowcott Legal affairs correspondent and Rebecca Ratcliffe South-east Asia correspondent

23, Jan, 2020 @10:12 AM