US journalist Danny Fenster freed from Insein Prison

The Myanmar junta released US journalist Danny Fenster and turned him over to US authorities on Monday after holding him for more than five months in Insein Prison.

He boarded a plane to the US on Monday, said a statement from Frontier Myanmar, where he is Managing Editor. 

The 37-year-old’s release comes just days after he was sentenced to 11 years in prison at a hearing held inside Insein Prison. 

Former US ambassador to the UN Bill Richardson said on Monday that Fenster had been handed over to him in Myanmar and was due to board a flight home via Qatar.

“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 said. 

The diplomat secured Fenster’s release during face-to-face negotiations with military chief and coup leader Min Aung Hlaing, his non-profit organisation The Richardson Center 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,” the Fenster family said in a statement. 

“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,” the statement added. 

His release also coincides with a visit to Myanmar by Yohei Sasakawa, Japan’s special envoy to Myanmar and the chair of the Nippon Foundation, to meet with the junta chief and the leaders of some political parties. 

Earlier this month, VOA’s Burmese language service reported that Fenster was expected to be released “soon” following mediation efforts by Sasakawa. 

Fenster was accused of spreading false information with the intent to incite violence against Myanmar’s coup regime under Section 505a of the Penal Code, as well as breaching Section 13(1) of the Immigration Act and Section 17(1) of the Unlawful Associations Act. 

He was also facing two other charges added last week—sedition under Section 124a of the Penal Code and terrorims offences under Section 50a of the Counterterrorism Law. He was scheduled to appear at his next court hearing on Tuesday.

Fenster was taken into custody as he was about to board a flight home from Yangon to see his family on May 24.

His conviction was based on allegations that he was working for Myanmar Now, which has been banned in the country by the junta, after the February 1 military coup. Fenster in fact resigned from Myanmar Now in July last year and joined Frontier the following month.

Than Zaw Aung, Fenster’s lawyer, told Myanmar Now on Wednesday that the prosecution called a total of 13 witnesses to testify, while the defence team relied on the testimony of three witnesses and various documents to make its case.

Frontier’s editor-in-chief, Thomas Kean, said in a statement on Friday that Fenster’s conviction had “no basis”. US State Department spokesperson Ned Price said the sentencing was “unjust”.

The State Department has not yet commented on his release.

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