After one hundred and seventy-six days in prison, the American journalist Danny Fenster will return to the United States. He has been released and will be expelled from the country shortly, a Burmese government source told Agence France-Presse (AFP) on Monday. “It is certain that he is released, but we have not contacted him and cannot say anything for the moment”, said the editor of Myanmar border Sonny Swe.
His release was secured by Bill Richardson, the former governor of New Mexico and secretary of energy in the Clinton administration, and US ambassador to the United Nations. Mr Richardson says he negotiated the release during a visit to Burma, during which he had one-on-one talks with General Min Aung Hlaing, the military leader who overthrew Aung’s elected government San Suu Kyi. The two men discussed the delivery of Covid-19 vaccines and medical supplies.
Sentenced to eleven years in prison
37-year-old journalist, who works for the magazine Myanmar border, was arrested on May 24 at Yangon international airport while trying to leave the country, and was being held near Rangoon, the economic capital, in Insein prison with many political prisoners. He was the first Western journalist to be detained for years in Burma. Other foreign journalists held by the junta were held for shorter periods, including American Nathan Maung, who was released in June, two weeks after Danny Fenster’s arrest. Beaten and deprived of water for several days during his interrogation, Mr. Maung believes American diplomacy allowed his release.
Friday, November 12, Mr. Fenster was sentenced to eleven years in prison ” for incitement to dissent, illegal association and violation of visa law ”, his lawyer, Than Zaw, told AFP. He was scheduled to appear in court on Tuesday for terrorism and sedition, and for doing so faced life imprisonment.
The UN and the United States called on the Burmese junta to release him without delay. “Journalists have been attacked since 1er February, with the military leaders who are clearly trying to prevent them from reporting on the serious human rights violations perpetrated throughout Burma, but also on the extent of opposition to the regime ”, denounced, on Friday, Michelle Bachelet, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, asking the junta to “Release immediately” Danny Fenster. American diplomacy had also demanded his release, believing that “Today’s verdict represents an unjust conviction of an innocent person”.
Burma has sunk into chaos since the military putsch of 1er February which ended a ten-year democratic parenthesis. The regime continues a bloody crackdown on its opponents with more than 1,200 civilians killed and more than 7,000 in detention, according to the Association for Assistance to Political Prisoners. This local NGO reports cases of torture, rape and extrajudicial executions.
The press is muzzled by the junta, which tries to strengthen its control of information, limiting access to the Internet and canceling media licenses. More than 100 journalists have been arrested since the putsch, according to Reporting Asean, an association for the defense of rights, which points out that 31 of them are still in detention.
“This is fantastic news for Danny and his family”said Richard Horsey, a Burma specialist at the NGO International Crisis Group, according to whom “He had done nothing wrong and should never have suffered this hell”. “It is also important at this time to remember the many Burmese journalists who are unfairly detained, and who must also be released”, he added.