US journalist jailed in Myanmar for nearly 6 months freed

US journalist jailed in Myanmar for nearly 6 months freed

Bangkok – US journalist Danny Finster, who was recently sentenced to 11 years in prison after spending nearly six months in prison in military-ruled Myanmar, was released on his way home on Monday, a former US diplomat who helped negotiate his release said.

Finster, managing editor of online magazine Frontier Myanmar, was convicted on Friday of publishing false or inflammatory information, contacting illegal organizations and violating visa regulations. His sentence was the toughest yet among the seven well-known journalists convicted since the military ousted the elected government of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi in February.

“This is the day you hope will come when you do this work,” Bill Richardson, the former governor of New Mexico and former ambassador to the United Nations, said in a statement emailed from his office. “We are so grateful that Danny will finally be able to reconnect with his loved ones, who have been defending him all this time, despite the tremendous odds.”

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Finster was delivered to Richardson in Myanmar and will return to the United States via Qatar within the next day and a half, according to the statement. He has been detained since his arrest at Yangon International Airport on May 24 as he was on his way to the Detroit area of ​​the United States to see his family.

“We are thrilled to have Danny released on his way home – we can’t wait to have him in our arms,” ​​his family said in a statement. “We are very grateful to all the people who helped secure his release, in particular Ambassador Richardson, as well as our friends and the public who expressed their support and stood by us as we endured these long and difficult months.”

It was never clear what Finster was alleged to have done, but much of the prosecution’s case appears to hinge on proving that he was working for another online news site that was ordered shut down this year during a crackdown on the media after the military seized power. . Finster used to work on the site but left that position last year.

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According to the United Nations, the military has detained at least 126 journalists, media officials or publishers since taking power, and 47 are still being held, but not all have been charged.

Among the seven journalists known to be convicted, six are Myanmar nationals and four were released in a mass amnesty on October 21.

Thomas Kean, editor-in-chief of Frontier Myanmar, welcomed the news of Finster’s release and called on the country’s military rulers to release all journalists still behind bars.

“Danny is one of many journalists in Myanmar who have been unjustly arrested just for doing their job since the February coup,” he said.

Richardson said he discussed Finster’s release during a recent visit to Myanmar when he had face-to-face negotiations with Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, the country’s governor.

Richardson is best known for traveling to countries with which Washington has poor relations, if any – such as North Korea – to obtain the freedom of detained Americans. He has recently been involved in seeking freedom for US citizens detained in Venezuela.

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He also has a long history of involvement with Myanmar, beginning in 1994 when he met Suu Kyi as a US congressman at her home, where she was under house arrest by order of a former military government.

In an interview with the Associated Press after his recent visit to Myanmar, Richardson said his talks there focused on facilitating humanitarian assistance to the country, particularly the provision of COVID-19 vaccines. This assignment also resulted in the release of Aye Moe, a young woman who had worked for the Richardson Center on Women’s Empowerment Issues.

At the time, Richardson said his staff were in contact with the Finster family, and when asked if there was hope for Danny Finster’s release, he replied, “There is always hope. Don’t ask for more.”

CPJ’s Southeast Asia representative Sean Crispin said Finster “shouldn’t have been imprisoned or sentenced on bogus charges in the first place.”

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“The Myanmar military regime must stop using journalists as pawns in their satirical games and release all other reporters who remain behind bars on trumped-up charges,” Crispin added.

During Fenster’s trial, prosecution witnesses testified that they were informed by a letter from the Ministry of Information that its records showed Fenster continued this year on the online news site Myanmar Now – one of dozens of outlets ordered closed in a crackdown against the press.

Both former and current employers made public statements that Finster now left Myanmar last year, and his lawyer said his defense certificate, as well as income tax receipts, proved he was working for Frontier Myanmar. But without the testimony of a government official to this effect, the judge only took into account the letter from the Ministry of Information.

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Associated Press writer John Gambrill in Dubai, United Arab Emirates contributed to this report.

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