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Journalist Danny Fenster returns to US after being freed from Myanmar

Nov 15, 2021


Original Story (11/16/21): American journalist Danny Fenster made it back to the United States Tuesday morning, a day after he was freed from a Myanmar prison. The video above shows Fenster reuniting with his family, as well as clips from an ensuing news conference. Fenster had been jailed in Myanmar since May, and was sentenced last week to 11 years of hard labor.

“It’s incredible. I just have so much gratitude right now for everything everyone’s done,” Fenster said upon his return to the U.S. “I’m going to take time to celebrate and spend time with my family.”


Original Story (11/15/21): Danny Fenster, an American journalist who had been detained in Myanmar since May, was freed Monday. His release comes just days after Fenster was convicted of spreading false or inflammatory information, contacting illegal organizations and violating visa regulations. He was sentenced to 11 years of hard labor, the harshest yet among the seven journalists known to have been convicted since Myanmar ousted the country’s elected government back in February.

“I was arrested and held in captivity for no reason,” Fenster said Monday. “But physically, I was healthy, I wasn’t starved or beaten.”

Much of the prosecution’s case appeared to hinge on proving Fenster was employed by an online news site that was ordered to close during a crackdown on the media following the military coup. Fenster used to work for the site but left that job last year.

Fenster was freed from Myanmar following negotiations done in part by former New Mexico governor and ambassador to the U.N. Bill Richardson. According to a tweet thread from his nonprofit the Richardson Center Monday, “Danny and the Richardson team will be making their long journey home, through Qatar, over the next day and a half”. The video above shows clips of negotiations, as well as Fenster arriving in Doha.

“This is the day that you hope will come when you do this work,” former Gov. Richardson said in the tweet thread. “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.”

The Richardson Center went on to say it looks forward to uniting the freed Fenster “with his parents, Buddy and Rose, as well as his brother Bryan, in the United States” after so much time in a Myanmar jail.

“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 statement, according to a tweet from CNN’s chief media correspondent Brian Stelter. “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.”

MWD Military TV Channel news presenter: “At the request of Mr. Hideo Watanabe, Chairman of Japan-Myanmar Association, Mr. Yohei Sasakawa, Special Envoy of the Government of Japan for National Reconciliation in Myanmar and Chairman of Nippon Foundation, Mr. Bill Richardson, former Governor of New Mexico and Chairman of the Richardson Center for Global Engagement, in view of the existing friendly relations between Myanmar and those countries, and on humanitarian grounds, Mr. Daniel Jacob Fenster, son of Mr. Bud Fenster, a US citizen who is serving terms in Insein Prison, has been remitted the prison sentence as per the Code of Criminal Procedure Section 401 (1) and deported from Myanmar. He was handed over to Mr. Bill Richardson, former governor of New Mexico and Chairman of the Richardson Center for Global Engagement, and they left Myanmar by air on 15 November 2021, it is learnt.”

Danny Fenster: “I was arrested and held in captivity for no reason, so I suppose so, but physically, I was healthy, I wasn’t starved or beaten.”

“So long time coming, you know, it’s a day and it’s a moment, that I’ve been imagining so, so intensely for so long. And, you know, it surpasses everything.”

Bill Richardson, former U.S. Diplomat: “Feels great to get Danny back home.  It’s worth the effort. It’s worth everything we did. But it took a one on one with a leader of Myanmar. Four meetings, two formal, two informal and it was a humanitarian gesture. But the whole trip was worth it because we tried to do humanitarian assistance, vaccines for the people of Myanmar. But getting Danny back, you know, getting one of my staff members, a Burmese woman, back, it’s worth the effort.”

Rose Fenster, Danny Fenster’s mother: “I mean, Danny’s just a selfless guy that wants to speak the truth and help people who can’t speak the truth and just get the truth out there, I mean,  he’s got good morals and ethics. He likes to listen to people’s stories, so I think he’s done some good in all of his writng, not just in Myanmar.”

Danny Fenster, Freed Journalist: “And I’m incredibly grateful to see Bill (Richardson) and his team out on the tarmac waiting for me. And it’s just the greatest, greatest feeling I can ever remember having. To my family, I was able to get little, little hints of what was going on occasionally throughout the experience. If I was outside of the prison in court, maybe some police aid that could speak a little bit of English would flash a picture on his phone of my entire family wearing T-shirts with my face on it on CNN, which was a pretty, pretty bizarre thing to see sitting in a courtroom there. So I was aware and I know my brother, I know what he’s capable of and how he works. So I assumed, I did not know the extent of that, but I assume something was going on out there and that the gratitude I mean, I spent the last 15 hours on the flight just looking at the coverage across the country in these places that I’ve lived and seeing people sort of remembering me and pulling together. And it’s just it’s incredible. I just have so much gratitude right now for everything everyone’s done.”

“So I’m going to take time to celebrate and spend time with my family. And then, you know, continue concentrating on all the other, not just journalists and prisoners of conscience in Myanmar and everywhere else, for me in Myanmar. Just a lot of citizens, doctors, teachers that are in prison right now. And you know, that’s another point that everybody here is reiterating. This is, this will be a short little celebration. But you know, let’s let’s keep focused on what the actual story is here.”

Bill Richardson, Former Governor of New Mexico/Helped negotiate Fenster’s release:

“You’re probably going to ask, well, how did this happen? Well, it happened because of this collaborative effort. But it also happened because of these, what was decisive was a meeting for meetings that Mickey mentioned with the commander in chief and I said to him this would be a gift, a humanitarian gesture to the American people, and this was the right thing to do. This was a journalist doing his job. This was a journalist reporting on what was happening and he shouldn’t suffer.”

“What was the best moment? And that was at the airport in Myanmar, seeing Danny walk towards me with all these security people around him. And I said to him, Danny, I’m taking you home. I’m taking you back to the United States today, today, he said, great.”

Danny Fenster, freed American journalist: “That entire day, I didn’t know that I was going home. I was in prison in Yangon and that morning I was told to pack a bag with what I needed, shuffled into a car, shackled hands and legs and told not to ask questions or say anything. We drove  straight past the airport in Yangon, so I had no idea where were going. We drove to Naypyidaw. So I spent the entire day in Naypyidaw waiting for something. I didn’t understand what I was waiting for, but I was just sitting in a chair, staring at an empty chair across from me. And several hours later, a police officer sat down and said, ‘You’ve been charged with these crimes and found guilty. We’re going to offer you this pardon and you going to leave right now.’ And I was in Naypyidaw, I wasn’t in Yangon.”

“My wife was in Yangon and the apartment that we shared, I didn’t get to see her or I talk to her. She was, she was getting ready to bring a parcel of food to the prison for me the following day. She is basically depending on she would come every two weeks as what they would allow. I don’t know if she had any idea what was happening. I’m sure she had access to more information than I did. But yes, so no, no, no, I wasn’t able to return to the apartment, took a few belongings with me. They told me the dress code was going to be casual.”

“I got myself into trouble, though, trying to push boundaries. And that caused small confrontations that, you know, I didn’t know what would come of them and so I was a little worried, but nothing. I mean, I wasn’t physically threatened or anything.”

“I I came in first with an attitude that I’m not going to be here very long and I’m going to stand my ground. And it didn’t take too long to figure out that I didn’t have a whole lot of ground to stand on.”

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