American journalist Danny Fenster arrives in New York following his release from Myanmar prison

NEW YORK — American journalist Danny Fenster, who was released after nearly six months in prison in military-ruled Myanmar, arrived in the United States on Tuesday for an emotional reunion with his family.

Fenster, who was sentenced last week to 11 years of hard labor, was handed over Monday to former US diplomat Bill Richardson, who helped negotiate his release. He is one of more than 100 journalists, media executives or editors who have been detained since the military overthrew the elected government of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi in February.

It’s been “a long, long time that I’ve been imagining so intensely for so long,” the bearded, shaggy-haired Fenster said after landing in New York. “Exceeds everything I imagined.”

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Fenster’s family awaited his arrival in the lobby of an airport hotel – and rushed outside to greet him as the SUV carrying him approached. His mother, Rose, embraced him in a long, tight embrace as he exited the vehicle.

“It’s over. There’s nothing to worry about anymore,” Fenster said later in an interview. this plane.”

His wife, Julianna, who is still in Myanmar, is expected to meet him in Detroit.

Late Monday, as Fenster, 37, was transiting through Qatar, he told reporters he was physically fine and had not been starved or beaten while in custody. While in custody, he had told his lawyer he thought he had Covid-19, although prison authorities denied it.

Danny Fenster welcomes his mother Rose on Tuesday. Timothy A. Clary/AFP-Getty Images

Fenster, editor of the online magazine Frontier Myanmar, was found guilty on Friday of spreading false or inflammatory information, contacting illegal organizations and violating visa regulations. Days before his sentencing, he learned that he had been charged with additional violations that face a life sentence.

It “feels good to bring Danny home. It’s worth it, worth everything we’ve done,” said Richardson, a former governor of New Mexico and former ambassador to the United Nations who helped broker the release through his foundation.

Fenster’s mother described the ordeal as a “nightmare” and the family expressed relief that it was over.

He “feels good, he’s safe, that’s all we want,” said his father, Buddy.

Fenster – in a knit beanie he said was a gift from another prisoner – joked that the first thing he would do would be shave and get a haircut.

He also said he hoped his situation would help draw the world’s attention to the suffering of the people of Myanmar, where the military has reacted harshly to peaceful protests opposing the generals’ takeover.

Security forces killed more than 1,200 civilians and arrested around 10,000 others, according to the Association for Assistance to Political Prisoners. The takeover and subsequent crackdown drew condemnation and sanctions from the United States and others.

Richardson said he made no promises in exchange for Fenster’s release. “And they didn’t ask me anything,” he said.

“I saw we had progress on the humanitarian issue, and I focused on Danny and Aye Moe,” Richardson said, referring to a former worker at his foundation who was also detained and later released.

The White House thanked Richardson for securing Fenster’s release. “The United States welcomes the release of Danny Fenster detained in Burma,” White House Deputy Press Secretary Andrew Bates said.

Fenster had been in custody since his arrest at Yangon International Airport on May 24.

The exact allegations against him have never been clear, but much of the prosecution case appeared to be based on evidence that he was employed by another online news site which was ordered shut down this year. during the media crackdown following the military coup. Fenster worked for the site but quit that job last year.

Originally from the Detroit area, Fenster has a master’s degree in creative writing from Wayne State University and worked for a newspaper in Louisiana before moving to Southeast Asia, according to Deadline Detroit, a news site to which he occasionally contributed.

His older brother, Bryan, said he was particularly interested in the plight of members of the Rohingya Muslim minority, hundreds of thousands of whom fled Myanmar during a brutal counter-insurgency campaign led by the military in 2017.