American journalist Danny Fenster, sentenced to 11 years of forced labor in Myanmar just a few days ago, has been released and is returning home, former US ambassador to the United Nations Bill Richardson said Monday.
Richardson said in a statement that Fenster had been delivered to him in Myanmar and that he would be returning to the United States via Qatar the next day and a half.
“This is the day you hope will come when you do this job,” Richardson said in an emailed statement from his office. “We are so thankful that Danny will finally be able to reconnect with his loved ones, who have been supporting him all this time, against enormous odds.”
Fenster, editor-in-chief of online magazine Frontier Myanmar, was convicted on Friday for spreading false or provocative information, contacting illegal organizations and violating visa regulations.
Fenster’s sentence was the toughest punishment among the seven journalists known to have been convicted since the military took power.
US State Department spokesman Ned Price condemned the decision, saying in a statement that it was “an unjust conviction of an innocent person”.
Richardson said he negotiated Fenster’s release during a recent visit to Myanmar when he held face-to-face meetings with General Min Aung Hlaing, the military leader who ousted the elected government of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi in February.
Richardson, who also served as governor of New Mexico and secretary of energy in the Clinton administration, has a record of acting as something of a freelance diplomat.
He is best known for traveling to countries with which Washington has little, if any, relationship, such as North Korea, to gain the freedom of detained Americans.
He has recently been involved in seeking freedom for US citizens detained in Venezuela, another country with which Washington has close ties.
Richardson has a long history of involvement with Myanmar, starting in 1994, when as a member of the United States Congress he met Suu Kyi at her home, where she had been under house arrest since 1989 under a previous military rule.
He last visited Myanmar in 2018 to advise on the crisis affecting the country’s Rohingya Muslim minority. More than 700,000 Rohingya fled to refugee camps in Bangladesh after the Myanmar army launched a brutal crackdown in 2017.
In an interview with the Associated Press following his last visit to Myanmar, Richardson said his talks had focused on facilitating humanitarian assistance to the country, particularly the provision of COVID-19 vaccines.
He said his staff were in contact with Fenster’s family, and when asked if there was hope for Fenster’s release, he replied, “There is always hope. Ask no more.”