American Danny Fenster is free. He spent nearly six months in jail in military-ruled Myanmar. The journalist arrived in the United States yesterday for an emotional reunion with his family.
Fenster has been in detention since being arrested at Yangon International Airport on May 24. He is managing editor of the online magazine Frontier Myanmar. Fenster faced charges of spreading false or inflammatory information, contacting illegal organizations, and violating visa regulations.
Days before his conviction, Fenster learned he had been charged with additional violations. Those put him at risk of a life sentence. He received his sentence from a Myanmar court last Friday: 11 years of hard labor.
U.S. diplomat Bill Richardson helped negotiate Fenster’s release. The two arrived in New York Tuesday morning.
Fenster is one of more than 100 journalists, media officials, or publishers who have been detained by Myanmar officials. The detentions have occurred since the military ousted the elected government of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi in February. (See Aung San Suu Kyi: A Life on Trial.)
Bryan Fenster, the journalist’s brother, says Danny has been particularly interested in the plight of people from the Muslim Rohingya minority. Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya fled Myanmar during a brutal campaign by the army in 2017. (See Rohingya Persecution in Myanmar.)
“I’m feeling all right physically,” Fenster told journalists after landing in Doha, Qatar, en route to the United States.
Fenster says he was not starved or beaten while in custody. While jailed, Fenster told his lawyer that he believed he had COVID-19. Myanmar prison authorities deny that.
“It’s just the same privations [hardships] and things that come with any form of incarceration,” Fenster says. “The longer it drags on, the more worried you are that it’s just never going to end.”
In New York, Fenster—with long hair and an unruly beard poking out from his blue surgical mask—says the first thing he’ll do is get a shave and a haircut. He wore a knit hat that he says was a gift from another prisoner.
“We are so grateful that Danny will finally be able to reconnect with his loved ones, who have been advocating for him all this time, against immense odds,” Richardson says.
The exact charges against Fenster were never clear. Much of the prosecution’s case involved proving that he worked for another online news site. That one was shuttered this year during the media crackdown following the military coup. Fenster was employed there previously, but he left that job last year.
Fenster’s mother described her son’s ordeal as a “nightmare.” The family expressed relief that it was over.
“He’s safe, that’s all we want,” his father, Buddy, says.
Fenster says it “feels incredible” to be home. It’s been a “long time coming, a moment I had been imagining so intensely for so long. Surpasses everything I had imagined.”
The generals in Myanmar “were convinced that it wasn’t worth it to hang on to Danny,” says U.S. Representative Andy Levin of Michigan. He represents the Fenster family in Congress. “If they kept him and anything really happened to him, we would never forget it. We would never forgive them.”
If you, Lord, were to keep account of guilty deeds, Lord, who could stand? But there is forgiveness with you, so that you may be revered. — Psalm 130:3-4 (NASB)
Evaluate Levin’s comments in light of what the Bible says about forgiveness. What other verses can you think of that deal with forgiving others? Does forgiveness between individuals also translate the same way to national entities such as leaders and governments, put in place to protect their citizens from harm?
(Former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Bill Richardson, right, poses with journalist Danny Fenster in Naypyitaw, Myanmar, on Monday, November 15, 2021. The Richardson Center via AP)