Behind the scenes of the release of Danny Fenster, American journalist detained in Burma

Sentenced to eleven years in prison, Friday November 12, amnestied the following Monday, and now back on American soil: Danny Fenster, the American journalist who worked for Burmese media and was arrested on May 24 at Yangon airport , a textbook example of “hostage diplomacy”, is now one of “parallel diplomacy”.

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That led by the former United States Ambassador to the United Nations, Bill Richardson, architect of numerous releases of American “hostages” from foreign regimes (Iran, North Korea, etc.). The news was revealed on Monday through a tweet from his organization, the Richardson Center, with a photo of the reporter alongside the “Global diplomat” Richardson on the tarmac at Naypyidaw Airport, November 15.

Mr Fenster’s conviction had sparked outrage around the world. The 37-year-old journalist was accused of working for the site Myanmar Now, which he had however resigned in 2020 – that is to say before the February coup – to join a Burmese magazine. At his gruesome trial, no specific article was mentioned, but the verdict far exceeded the penalties required for the crime he was accused of, namely the dissemination of defamatory information about the army or its members. Danny Fenster was the only one of four foreign journalists arrested in Burma to have been sentenced: another American of Burmese origin, as well as a Pole and a Japanese have already been released.

Released for “humanitarian reasons”

With a long experience with Burma – he obtained one of the first releases of Aung San Suu Kyi, in 1995 – Mr. Richardson came to Naypyidaw in early November to offer “Humanitarian solutions” to Min Aung Hlaing, the coup leader general of the junta. In his public statements, the American had let it be known that he had not raised, with his interlocutor, the issue of his imprisoned compatriot – which had triggered a flood of criticism against him on Twitter and in the press from heads of human rights NGOs. In reality, Mr. Richardson negotiated hard. Officially, Mr. Fenster has been released for “Humanitarian reasons” – in return for one of the gestures mentioned by Bill Richardon, in particular the delivery of vaccines, but the details of which have not been filtered. The Burmese army, several of its leaders and its conglomerates are the target of strict American sanctions.

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Bill Richardon was not alone in the maneuver: the Japanese news agency Kyodo News revealed, Monday, the intercession of Yohei Sasakawa, president of the charitable foundation Nippon Foundation, created in 1962 by his father, Ryoichi Sasakawa, suspected of war crimes in 1945, then a figure of the Japanese far right, anxious to restore his image.

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