HUNTINGTON WOODS, Mich. (AP) — American journalist Danny Fenster, freed after nearly six months in jail in military-ruled Myanmar, said he feels “incredibly fortunate” to be back home in suburban Detroit after his uncertain time behind bars.
Fenster, 37, was greeted by family and friends Tuesday night as he returned to Huntington Woods. He was sentenced last week to 11 years of hard labor in Myanmar, but was handed over Monday to former U.S. diplomat Bill Richardson, who helped negotiate his release.
He had been in detention since his arrest at Yangon International Airport on May 24.
“I feel incredibly fortunate to be home, I can’t believe the amount of effort that went into it that was necessary to make this happen – overwhelming gratitude,” said Fenster, who returned to the U.S. earlier Tuesday on a flight that landed in New York.
Fenster, the managing editor of online magazine Frontier Myanmar, is one of more than 100 journalists, media officials or publishers who have been detained since the Myanmar military ousted the elected government of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi in February.
He was convicted 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 that put him at risk of a life sentence.
Now bearded and shaggy-haired, Fenster said he passed his time in jail by doing “a lot of reading. A lot of sitting around thinking and staring at walls.”
He said bi-weekly visits from his wife kept him sane during his incarceration. She remains in Myanmar, but is expected to be back in the U.S. before Thanksgiving.
“She came when they let her which was every other week and delivered a huge food parcel to me and we wrote each other love letters,” he said.
Fenster said his release would not have been possible without help from his older brother, Bryan, saying he worked tirelessly with U.S. Rep. Andy Levin of Michigan and others to secure his release.
“We’ve always been incredibly close,” he said of his brother.