Myanmar frees Jewish journalist after negotiations with former US diplomat

American journalist Danny Fenster was released from prison in Myanmar on Monday and left the country, his employer said, following negotiations between former US diplomat Bill Richardson and the ruling military junta.

Fenster, 37, editor-in-chief of the independent online magazine Frontier Myanmar, was arrested in May and sentenced to 11 years in prison on Friday for incitement and violations of immigration laws and illegal assembly, a ruling that led to international condemnation.

Fenster left Myanmar with Richardson on a flight to Qatar. The Richardson Center posted a photo on social media of the two together about to board the plane.

“We are very grateful that Danny is finally able to reconnect with his loved ones, who have been defending him all this time, against immense odds,” Richardson, who visited Myanmar earlier this month, said in a statement.

Fenster was among dozens of media workers detained in Myanmar since the February 1 coup that sparked a torrent of public anger over the military’s abrupt end to a decade of tentative steps toward democracy.

Myanmar flag. (credit: PIXABAY)

A spokesman for the ruling military council did not immediately respond to Reuters’ request for comment. The Burmese BBC service said the spokesperson confirmed Fenster’s release but did not provide further details.

Richardson, former governor of New Mexico, US secretary of energy and US ambassador to the United Nations, made the surprise visit to Myanmar on November 2 as humanitarian aid.


He is one of the few foreigners who has met with the leader of the junta, Min Aung Hlaing, in Myanmar since he led the coup. The general is among several sanctioned by the United States and several Western countries.

His organization said Fenster’s release came after that private visit and “face-to-face negotiations” with Min Aung Hlaing.

That meeting in the capital Naypyitaw, ostensibly about COVID-19 healthcare, was reported on state television, which has not mentioned Fenster’s case.

Frontier Editor-in-Chief Thomas Kean said in a statement: “We are relieved that Danny is finally out of jail, a place he should never have been.”

“But we also recognize that Danny is one of the many journalists in Myanmar who have been unjustly arrested simply for doing their job since the February coup.”

Fenster’s brother Bryan said the family was delighted.

“We cannot wait to hold him in our arms. We are tremendously grateful to all the people who have helped secure his release.”

The US embassy in Yangon did not immediately respond to separate requests for comment.

Fenster was the first Western journalist to be sentenced to prison in recent years in Myanmar, where the coup against the elected government of Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi has left the country in chaos, with generals struggling to consolidate the power and facing increasing international pressure.

Human rights groups condemned the junta over the court’s ruling, which came days after the additional charges of sedition and violations of the terrorism law.

The United States had been pushing for his release and over the weekend condemned the ruling as an “unacceptable attack on freedom of expression.”

The ruling junta has not commented on the case since Friday or responded to international criticism, and state media have not reported on it.

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