Huntington Woods native home after 5-month detention in Myanmar

By: Mike Koury | Woodward Talk | Published November 18, 2021

 Danny Fenster, who had been imprisoned in Myanmar for more than five months, was released Nov. 15, with help from former New Mexico Gov. and former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Bill Richardson.

Danny Fenster, who had been imprisoned in Myanmar for more than five months, was released Nov. 15, with help from former New Mexico Gov. and former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Bill Richardson.

Photo provided by the Richardson Center Twitter account

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HUNTINGTON WOODS — Danny Fenster, the journalist from Huntington Woods who had been detained in Myanmar since May, has been released from prison.

It was announced Nov. 15, after being held for 176 days, that Fenster, 37, had been released from a Myanmar prison. This came days after Fenster was sentenced by the country’s military court to more than a decade in prison with hard labor.

The news of Fenster’s release came from former New Mexico Gov. and former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Bill Richardson, who tweeted that the Huntington Woods native was heading home to his parents, Buddy and Rose, and his brother, Bryan, following a private humanitarian visit and “face-to-face negotiations with General Min Aung Hlaing, Myanmar’s Commander in Chief.”

Fenster’s family shared in a statement that they were “overjoyed” that he was coming home.

“We cannot wait to hold him in our arms,” they said. “We are tremendously grateful to all the people who have helped secure his release, especially Ambassador Richardson, as well as our friends and the public who have expressed their support and stood by our sides as we endured these long and difficult months.”

Fenster’s brother, Bryan, expressed the same sentiment on his Facebook account.

“We are tremendously grateful to all the people who have helped secure his release, especially Ambassador Richardson, as well as our friends, family and the public who have expressed their support and stood by our sides as we endured these long and difficult months,” he said. “I don’t know how we could ever express our gratitude. On behalf of the Fenster-Racey-Kurzweil families, we say THANK YOU and we love you so much.”

Richardson, on his nonprofit’s Twitter account, stated that Fenster and his team were traveling through Qatar over the next day and a half to make it back to the United States.

“This is the day that you hope will come when you do this work,” Richardson stated. “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.”

On May 24, Fenster attempted to board a plane at the Yangon International Airport in Myanmar to surprise his parents back home in Huntington Woods. He instead was detained by the country’s military, who had earlier that year staged a coup.

Fenster had been working as the managing editor of Frontier Myanmar, and it was believed that he had been taken into custody because he was a journalist.

For five months, Fenster was held in the Insein Prison in Yangon. On Nov. 12, following a trial that was closed to the public, he was sentenced to 11 years in prison with hard labor on charges of incitement, communication with an unlawful association, and visa breaches.

It was only three days later that Fenster’s release from prison was secured.

“We are relieved that Danny is finally out of prison — somewhere he never should have been in the first place,” Frontier Myanmar Editor-in-Chief Thomas Kean said in a Facebook statement. “The Frontier team would like to thank all of those who worked to secure Danny’s release over the past five-and-a-half months.”

In a press conference live-streamed to multiple news outlets, Fenster thanked everyone who helped spread his story, as well as Richardson for getting his release.

“I’m incredibly grateful ... seeing Bill and his team there out on the tarmac waiting for me. It’s just the greatest … feeling I can ever remember having,” he said.

Fenster recalled how he would get some hints on what people were doing back home while he was detained. He said that if he was outside the prison in court, there were times where a police aid who spoke a little English would flash a picture of his entire family wearing T-shirts with his face on it on CNN.

“I know my brother. I know what he’s capable of and how he works, so  … I did not know the extent of it, but I assumed something was going on out there. And that gratitude, I mean, I spent the last 15 hours on the flight just looking at the coverage across the country and these places that I’ve lived and seeing people sort of remembering me and pulling together, and it’s incredible. I just have so much gratitude right now for everything everyone’s done. I think every action everyone’s taken has helped a little bit, so I’m going to take time to celebrate and to spend time with my family,” he said.

Fenster also wanted to shine a light on what still is going on in Myanmar, as not only journalists have been imprisoned, but others as well.

“Continue concentrating on all the other, not just journalists and prisoners of conscience in Myanmar and everywhere else, for me in Myanmar just a lot of citizens, doctors, teachers that are in prison right now,” he said. “That’s another point that everybody here is reiterating. This will be a short little celebration but, you know, let’s keep focused on what the actual story is here.”

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