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Myanmar has released a U.S. journalist it has held since May


Myanmar has released a U.S. journalist that it's held since May. Danny Fenster had just been sentenced Friday to 11 years in jail by a military court in the wake of the coup there. The announcement of his release came from former U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Bill Richardson, who had gone to Myanmar to negotiate his release. We're joined now by journalist Michael Sullivan in neighboring Thailand, who has been covering the case. Michael, tell us first - who is Danny Fenster, and why was he in jail?

MICHAEL SULLIVAN, BYLINE: He's a 37-year-old editor of the online magazine Frontier Myanmar, and he's been working as a journalist in Myanmar for a number of years. Before working for Frontier, he worked for another outlet, Myanmar Now, and it's his work there that appears to have gotten him in trouble with the military. They did not like some of the things written about them and decided to do something about it after the coup. Danny Fenster's name made its way onto a list. And in May, about three months after the February 1 coup that brought the military to power, he was arrested at the airport in Myanmar's biggest city, Yangon, just as he was about to board a plane back to the Detroit area to see his family. And he's been held in the infamous Insein Prison, where they keep political dissidents, ever since.

MARTÍNEZ: What do we know about his release?

SULLIVAN: It's a surprise. On Friday, as you said, Fenster had been sentenced to 11 years with hard labor on three different counts, all of which his employer in the U.S. government called ridiculous. And tomorrow he'd been scheduled to hear the prosecution's case in his trial for sedition and terrorism, which could have seen him jailed for 20 years on each count. And then there was Bill Richardson's trip to Myanmar earlier this month, when he visited and met with Myanmar's top general, Min Aung Hlaing, to discuss humanitarian relief, he said. Many people were wondering then if he was trying to win Fenster's release. He denied it at the time. And when he left the country empty-handed, he even drew criticism from some quarters, from people who accused him of legitimizing the military's regime by agreeing to meet with them in the first place. Not so much now. In a statement, Fenster's Family today said, we are overjoyed that Danny has been released and is on his way home; we cannot wait to hold him in our arms.

MARTÍNEZ: Now, all this is going on now as there are a series of high-profile trials underway in Myanmar. What's the latest on the other cases you're watching?

SULLIVAN: It doesn't look very good, and I think we shouldn't in any way see this as more than a one-off. The regime has been going very hard against opponents of the regime, longtime opponents of the regime. Last month, at the end of a meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, the junta made a very clear point of handing down a 20-year sentence for high treason to an ailing 80-year-old longtime aide and confidante of Aung San Suu Kyi. And just last week, there were a couple of very harsh sentences against prominent members of her party as well. And all of this bodes ill for Suu Kyi herself.

MARTÍNEZ: Now, those are the court cases, but there's a military crackdown going on right now, too.

SULLIVAN: Yeah, there's the ongoing violence between the military and the various groups resisting them that's left over 1,200 dead. That resistance is growing, and so is the military's determination to stamp it out. They're using scorched-earth tactics against towns and villages in the north and west of the country, the same tactics they used against the Muslim minority Rohingya in 2017. And there are indications the military is planning a larger offensive across the entire north of the country to try to put down this resistance once and for all.

MARTÍNEZ: That's Michael Sullivan in Thailand. Michael, thanks a lot.

SULLIVAN: You're welcome, A. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

A Martínez
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Michael Sullivan is NPR's Senior Asia Correspondent. He moved to Hanoi to open NPR's Southeast Asia Bureau in 2003. Before that, he spent six years as NPR's South Asia correspondent based in but seldom seen in New Delhi.