American journalist Danny Fenster is back on home soil after six months behind bars in military-ruled Myanmar.
The Detroit journalist was convicted of spreading false or inflammatory information, contacting illegal organizations and violating visa regulations and was just last week sentenced to 11 years in prison at hard labor.
After being released into the custody of former US Ambassador to the United Nations Bill Richardson on Monday, Fenster arrived at JFK Airport early Tuesday sporting a thick beard and long hair under a red woolen hat gifted to him by another prisoner.
Fenster shared a loving embrace with his overjoyed family outside an airport hotel before joking he was due for a shave and haircut.
“(It’s been a) long time coming, a moment I had been imagining so intensely for so long,” Fenster said.
“Surpasses everything I had imagined.”
The freed political prisoner claimed he was not beaten or starved while in custody but suspected he had contracted COVID-19.
“You just go a little stir crazy and the longer it drags on, the more worried you are that it’s just never going to end,” he told Reuters from the tarmac at Hamad International Airport in Doha while in transit.
“That was the biggest concern, staying sane through that. … But physically, I was healthy.”
It was never clear exactly what Fenster was alleged to have done, as the court hearings held at Yangon’s infamous Insein Prison were closed to the media and the public.
The prosecution’s case reportedly hinged on Fenster working for a news website that the Myanmar government shut down, despite taking a job for a different employer well before the official edict.
Fenster is one of more than 100 journalists, media officials or publishers who have been detained since the Myanmar military ousted the elected government of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi in February, the AP reported.
Myanmar generals “were convinced that it wasn’t worth it to hang on to Danny,” US Rep. Andy Levin (D-Mich.), who represents the Fenster family in Congress, told Detroit radio station WWJ.
“If they kept him and anything really happened to him, we would never forget it. We would never forgive them.”
Fenster still faces two additional charges in a different Myanmar court for allegedly violating the counterterrorism law and a statute covering treason and sedition.
With Post wires