Journalist Danny Fenster Released from Myanmar Prison After Six Months


Seth Wenig

Danny Fenster reunites with his mother at John F. Kennedy International Airport while negotiator of his release, Bill Richardson, looks on.

Susie Anderson, Contributing Writer

This past Tuesday, 37-year-old journalist Danny Fenster returned to the United States after spending almost six months in military-ruled Myanmar jail. His homecoming was celebrated by his mother and father, who met him at John F. Kennedy Airport with open arms.

On Friday, Fenster had been sentenced to eleven years of hard labor in Myanmar, until Bill Richardson, former US diplomat, negotiated his release by Monday. Richardson’s profession involves negotiating the freedom of Americans detained in countries in which Washington has poor relations. In his first meeting with military leaders months earlier, Richardson was told by U.S. officials to not bring up Fenster’s case.

Fenster was convicted on Friday of spreading inflammatory or false information, violating visa regulation, and contacting illegal organizations. Days before his conviction, he was made aware of additional violations that  put him at the risk of a life sentence. Hingham High School senior Ellie Fabbro expressed concern at the news, stating that “I think it is unsettling to hear that there has been a journalist who was jailed for simply expressing himself through words. And the fact that we’re just hearing about it now after so many months, because I sure didn’t know about it!”

After addressing the issue in a private conversation with the commander-in-chief of the junta, Bill Richardon was told to return to continue discussions Monday. Following those discussions, Fenster was freed by the end of the day without a required exchange for his freedom.

During transit through Qatar on his way home, Fenster shared with reporters that he hadn’t been beaten or starved while in custody. In the joyous reunion after his parents ran out of the lobby at the airport hotel to greet him, Fenster shared that “It’s over. There’s nothing to be anxious about anymore. Any bitter ill will, regret, anger spilled out on the tarmac when I got on that plane.” His mother called the entire ordeal as nightmarish, and his father emphasized the importance of his son’s being home safe. HHS junior Morgan Beighley comments, “I can’t imagine what it must have been like. And what relief his family and friends must feel now that he has returned. I hope he’s all right.”

Fenster proved in good enough spirits that while wearing a knit hat gifted to him from another prisoner, he joked that the first thing he’d do at home was get a haircut and a shave. Fenster’s wife Julianna is set to reunite with him in Detroit as she is still in Myanmar.

On his knowledge of the efforts being made toward his release, Fenster shared with CNN that he had received “little hints of what was going on occasionally throughout the experience. I was outside of the prison in court, maybe some police aide that could speak a little English, would flash a picture on his phone of my entire family wearing T-shirts with my face on it on CNN, which was a pretty, pretty bizarre thing to see, sitting in a courtroom.” 

Fenster shared that he would take time to celebrate his return home with his loved ones, and then continue to raise awareness of “all the others, not just journalists and prisoners of conscience in Myanmar and everywhere else.” Beyond Fenster, there are more than sixty known cases of wrongful imprisoned Americans throughout the world, according to The Foley Foundation, an organization that works with hostage issues. Senior Ellie Fabbro expressed her Fenster hopes that his experience will bring attention to the suffering of the people in Myanmar, who face brutal response to protesting the new regime from the army; security forces have arrested around 10,000 civilians and killed more than 1,200 others, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.