This story has been updated to reflect breaking news.
American Jewish journalist Danny Fenster has been pardoned on “humanitarian grounds” by the military government of Myanmar, following negotiations on his behalf by former U.S. diplomat Governor Bill Richardson. Photographs dated November 15 have been released on Twitter of Fenster and Richardson standing together outside an airplane, and his family is eagerly awaiting his arrival home in Michigan.
Just three days ago, Fenster was sentenced to 11 years in prison by Myanmar’s ruling military junta, with the possibility of up to 30 more. Fenster, a native of Metropolitan Detroit, lived in Myanmar since 2018. He received the maximum sentences for three charges relating to incitement, unlawful association and visa violations. Fenster had also been charged with terrorism and sedition.
According by Fenster’s lawyer, Than Zaw Aung, the charges were based on news reporting quoting members of a banned opposition group by Myanmar Now, an outlet with which Fenster is no longer affiliated. Fenster is now managing editor of a magazine called Frontier Myanmar.
The ruling, by a military court, was condemned by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Amnesty International, the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and other organizations. Deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch Phil Robertson characterized it as an “outrageous, rights abusing sentence” whose purpose is to intimidate journalists while “sending a message to the U.S. that the Tatmadaw generals don’t appreciate being hit with economic sanctions and can bite back with hostage diplomacy.”
Since the February 1 coup, “Myanmar has quickly gone from imprisoning a single reporter to ranking as one of the world’s worst jailers of journalists,” according to CPJ. OHCHR reports that Fenster is one of 47 journalists currently in detention in Myanmar: “At least 126 journalists, media officials or publishers have been detained by the military since 1 February. Twenty of these individuals have been charged with crimes because of their work as journalists. Nine media outlets have had their licenses revoked and 20 others have had to suspend operations. Dozens of journalists reportedly remain in hiding due to outstanding arrest warrants.”