'Long Time Coming': U.S. Journalist Danny Fenster Home After 6 Months in Myanmar Jail

American journalist Danny Fenster arrived back in the U.S. Tuesday and reunited with his family after spending nearly six months in a Myanmar jail.

Fenster, the managing editor of the online magazine Frontier Myanmar, was convicted last week of spreading false or inflammatory information, contacting illegal organizations and violating visa regulations. He was then sentenced to 11 years of hard labor in Myanmar until Bill Richardson, a former U.S. diplomat and past ambassador to the United Nations, helped negotiate his release, the Associated Press reported.

Fenster, now sporting shaggy hair and a beard, said after landing in New York that it was a "long time coming, a moment I had been imagining so intensely for so long."

Richardson, who served as governor of New Mexico, said that it "feels great to get Danny back home. It's worth the effort, worth everything we did."

When Fenster exited a car outside an airport hotel Tuesday, his mother, brother and father rushed over to hug him.

Fenster's release came as his prospects for freedom were looking increasingly dim. Just days before he was convicted, he was hit with two extra criminal charges of terrorism and treason in addition to the three he already faced.

The military government said that Fenster was "pardoned" and then released on "humanitarian grounds," BBC reported.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken applauded Fenster's release after he was "wrongfully detained for almost six months."

"We are glad that Danny will soon be reunited with his family, as we continue to call for the release of others who remain unjustly imprisoned" in Myanmar, Blinken said.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Danny Fenster Released
American journalist Danny Fenster arrived back in the U.S. Tuesday and reunited with his family after spending nearly six months in a Myanmar jail. Fenster, center, hugs his mother Rose Fenster as former U.S. diplomat Bill Richardson, right, looks on at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York, Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2021. Seth Wenig/AP Photo

Fenster is one of more than 100 journalists, media officials or publishers who have been detained since the military ousted the elected government of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi in February.

Late Monday, as Fenster transited through Qatar, he told reporters that he was physically OK and had not been starved or beaten while in custody. While jailed, he had told his lawyer that he believed he had COVID-19, though prison authorities denied that.

Fenster's mother, Rose, described the ordeal as a "nightmare" and the family expressed relief that it was over.

It "feels great, he's safe, that's all we want," his father, Buddy, said.

Fenster — in a knit hat that he said was a gift from another prisoner — joked that the first thing he would do is get a shave and a haircut.

"It's over. There's nothing to be anxious about anymore," Fenster said later in an interview. "Any bitter, ill will, regret, anger spilled out on the tarmac when I got on that plane."

His wife, Julianna, who is still in Myanmar, is set to reunite with him in Detroit.

Fenster has been in detention since he was arrested at Yangon International Airport on May 24.

The exact allegations against him were never clear, but much of the prosecution's case appeared to hinge on proving that he was employed by another online news site that was ordered closed this year during the crackdown on the media that followed the military takeover. Fenster used to work for the site but left that job last year.

A native of 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 website to which he occasionally contributed.

His brother, Bryan, has said he was particularly interested in the plight of people from the Muslim Rohingya minority, hundreds of thousands of whom fled Myanmar during a brutal counterinsurgency campaign by the army in 2017.

The generals in Myanmar "were convinced that it wasn't worth it to hang on to Danny," U.S. Rep. Andy Levin of Michigan, 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."

Richardson is known for traveling to nations with which Washington has poor, if any, relations — such as North Korea — to obtain the freedom of detained Americans.

He also has a long history of involvement with Myanmar, starting in 1994, when as a member of Congress he met Suu Kyi at her home, where she had been under house arrest ordered by a previous military government.

In an interview with the Associated Press on Tuesday, Richardson said U.S. officials told him not to bring up Fester's case during his first meeting with military leaders. But he did so when he sensed there was an opportunity to negotiate the release during a private conversation with the commander-in-chief of the junta.

"Well, I raised it. I said, 'You should release him," Richardson explained, at which point talks deepened and he was told to return Monday for "a final negotiation."

Later that day, according to Richardson's timeline, Fenster was free.

Richardson said he made no promises in exchange for Fenster's freedom. "And they didn't ask me for anything," he said.

"I saw we had progress on the humanitarian issue, and I zeroed in on Danny and Aye Moe," Richardson said, referring to a former worker at his foundation who was also detained then released.

The White House thanked Richardson for securing Fenster's release. "The United States welcomes the release of Danny Fenster from detention in Burma," White House deputy press secretary Andrew Bates said.

Fenster said Tuesday he hoped his plight would help focus world attention on the suffering of the people of Myanmar, where the army has responded brutally to peaceful protests that opposed the generals' seizure of power. Security forces have killed more than 1,200 civilians and arrested about 10,000 others, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners. The takeover and the ensuing crackdown have drawn condemnation and sanctions from the United States and others.

Fenster Arrives in NY
Danny Fenster, the American journalist who spent nearly six months in jail in military-ruled Myanmar, arrived in the United States Tuesday. Fenster arrives for a news conference after he landed at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York, Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2021. Seth Wenig/AP Photo