(New York, NY) — The release of journalist Danny Fenster, a U.S. citizen and managing editor of the independent Frontier Myanmar news outlet, is a rare victory for freedom of expression in Myanmar, PEN America said today.  

“We are relieved and overjoyed at the news of Danny Fenster’s release, which comes at a time when journalists in Myanmar are facing wide-ranging threats and retaliation, including imprisonment, simply for doing their jobs,” said Karin Deutsch Karlekar, director of free expression programs at PEN America. “The charges levied against him were ludicrous and unfounded to begin with, the product of a penal system which uses a wide range of repressive laws to punish journalists and others who write and publish basic news, hard-hitting investigative reporting, dissident opinions, or criticism of the coup. We call on the military junta to halt its authoritarian crackdown on free speech in Myanmar, and urge authorities to release other unjustly detained journalists.” 

Fenster, a U.S. citizen and managing editor of the independent Frontier Myanmar news site, was detained by Myanmar military authorities in May 2021 as he attempted to board a flight out of the country at Yangon International Airport. Held ostensibly in connection with news coverage published by Myanmar Now in March 2021, last week Fenster was given the maximum possible sentence of 11 years in prison on three separate charges for allegedly disseminating information that could be harmful to the military, violating the country’s Unlawful Association Act, and violating Myanmar’s immigration law. Fenster was previously a copyeditor and reporter for the Myanmar Now news site, but departed from the role in July 2020, seven months before the alleged offenses took place, according to official testimony; Frontier Myanmar had submitted extensive evidence to this effect to the court.

He was also facing two additional charges of terrorism and sedition under the Counter-Terrorism Act and Myanmar’s Penal Code, which each carry penalties of up to 20 years in prison. Fenster was released on November 15, 2021 after nearly six months in Myanmar’s Insein Prison, following months of backchannel diplomatic efforts to secure his release, including recent talks between junta military authorities and former U.S. diplomat Bill Richardson, who specializes in securing the release of individuals jailed overseas. 

Dozens of other Burmese journalists and writers are currently in jail, detained under similar charges, including three writers who were arrested by military authorities on the day of the February 2021 coup, Than Myint Aung, Maung Thar Cho, and Htin Linn Oo, along with filmmaker Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi. Before the coup, Myanmar already ranked among the world’s top ten jailers of writers and public intellectuals, according to PEN America’s 2020 Freedom to Write Index. Since then, Myanmar has seen a harsh crackdown on media freedom, free expression, and the freedom to write, as summarized in Seven Ways Myanmar’s Military is Cracking Down on Free Expression in the Wake of the Coup. PEN America has been working since May on the campaign by Fenster’s family and other supporters to help #BringDannyHome.