US journalist released from Myanmar prison says he believed ordeal would never end

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An American journalist jailed for six months by Myanmar’s military rulers said after his shock release that he struggled to stay sane and feared his ordeal might end, while insisting that he did not should never have been detained.

Danny Fenster – sentenced last week to 11 years in prison for incitement, unlawful association and visa violation – was released on Monday, a day before he faced terrorism and sedition charges allegedly could lead him to life imprisonment.

The 37-year-old looked gaunt, with his hair and beard stretched out while in captivity, as he stepped out of a jet in the Qatari capital Doha with former US diplomat Bill Richardson.

“I was arrested and held captive for no reason … but physically I was in good health,” he told reporters at the airport. “I was not starved or beaten.”

The Burmese military has been pressing the press since taking power in a coup in February, arresting dozens of journalists critical of its crackdown, which has killed more than 1,200 people, according to a local watch group.

Fenster had worked at Frontier Myanmar, a local outlet in the Southeast Asian country, for about a year and was arrested on his way home to see his family in May.

“I feel great physically. It’s the same deprivations that come with any form of incarceration. You just go a little bit crazy,” Fenster said.

“The longer it drags on, the more worried you become that it will never end. So that’s the biggest concern, staying sane during all of this.”

Fenster is believed to have contracted Covid-19 while in detention, family members said in a conference call with U.S. reporters in August.

The United States, which had said Fenster had been wrongly and wrongly detained, welcomed his release.

“I just spoke with American journalist Danny Fenster, who is released from prison in Burma and on his way to reunite with his family in the United States,” tweeted Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

“Looking forward to welcoming you home, Danny.

” I am so happy “

The junta said Fenster was pardoned and released on “humanitarian grounds”, ending 176 days in a colonial-era prison where many of Myanmar’s most famous dissidents were held.

His release was obtained following “face to face negotiations” between Richardson and junta leader Min Aung Hlaing, Richardson’s organization said in a statement.

Fenster was pardoned and released in an attempt to “maintain friendly relations among nations,” a report released by state agency Global New Light of Myanmar said on Tuesday.

Richardson visited Myanmar earlier this month on what has been described as a “private humanitarian mission”.

He said at the time that the US State Department specifically asked him not to raise Fenster’s case during his visit.

Fenster’s father, Buddy, expressed his relief after speaking with his son on the phone, saying there was “nothing more difficult for a parent” than knowing that a child is in distress and unable to. help him.

“He’s been sleeping on a wooden pallet for almost six months. And he said, ‘The plane has a bed in it,’ and I said, you know, ‘Danny, take a rest, man, lay down on that. ‘ I’m so glad to hear that, ”said Buddy.

The junta said two Japanese envoys, Hideo Watanabe and Yohei Sasakawa, were involved in the negotiations, without providing details.

“This is wonderful news for all of his friends and family,” Andrew Nachemson, Fenster’s colleague at Frontier Myanmar, told AFP.

“But of course he should never have spent six months in jail … and any local journalists who remain in jail should also be released immediately.”

More than 100 journalists have been arrested since the coup, according to Reporting ASEAN, a monitoring group. He says at least 30 are still in detention.

(AFP)

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