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Metro Detroit Journalist Danny Fenster Says Work to Free Political Prisoners Isn’t Over

Danny Fenster Plane.jpeg
Courtesy of The Richardson Center
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Metro Detroit journalist Danny Fenster, who is back in the U.S. after nearly six months in a Myanmar prison, says he is just one part of a larger story and he will continue concentrating on other journalists and political prisoners jailed in Myanmar and beyond.

He was arrested trying to board a flight back home in May amid a crackdown on journalists and dissidents following a military takeover earlier this year. Fenster, who was sentenced last week to 11 years of hard labor, was handed over Monday to former U.S. diplomat Bill Richardson, who helped negotiate the release.

Fenster was the managing editor of online publication Frontier Myanmar, which gives an international voice to the people in that country. That made him a target. Fenster was sentenced to a decade in prison with more charges pending.  

“This will be a short little celebration but let’s keep focused on what the actual story is here.” —Danny Fenster

He says he’s grateful to be home, but the work to free other political prisoners isn’t over. 

“You know that’s another point that everybody here is reiterating,” he says. “This will be a short little celebration but let’s keep focused on what the actual story is here.” 

Fenster says he’s just one part of a larger story.  

He says he will “continue concentrating on all the other, not just journalists and prisoners of conscience in Myanmar and everywhere else … a lot of citizens, doctors, teachers that are in prison right now.”  

Fenster was facing 11 years of hard labor until former ambassador to the U.N. and former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson was able to secure his release. Days before his conviction, Fenster learned he had been charged with additional violations that put him at risk of a life sentence.

Richardson says diplomacy is important. He 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 the House of Representatives he met Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi at her home, where she had been under house arrest ordered by a previous military government. Suu Kyi was arrested in the hours before the military’s February coup.

“I believe that we have to engage our adversaries no matter how different our philosophies are,” Richardson says.   

Fenster’s parents and brother joined him in New York, but his wife remains in Myanmar.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.