An American journalist sentenced to 11 years in prison by a court in Myanmar last week was freed on Monday and flown out of the military-run country, according to military authorities.
In a press statement, they said Danny Fenster was deported after being granted amnesty at the request of U.S. and Japanese intermediaries "in view of the existing friendly relations between Myanmar and those countries and on humanitarian grounds."
Fenster, the managing editor of online news magazine Frontier Myanmar, was arrested on May 24 at Yangon International Airport shortly before he was due to board a flight to Malaysia.
He was accused of working for banned media outlet Myanmar Now in the aftermath of the Feb. 1 military coup, even though he had resigned in July 2020 and joined Frontier the following month.
Last Friday, a Yangon court convicted him on three charges, including dissemination of false information and immigration violations, and meted out prison sentences totaling 11 years.
His release from Insein Prison in Yangon was also announced by the former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Bill Richardson, who said on Twitter that the journalist had been handed over to him in Myanmar and would return to the United States via Qatar.
The Richardson Center, based in New Mexico where Richardson served as governor, said, "Danny's release was secured following a private humanitarian visit by Governor Richardson to Myanmar and face-to-face negotiations with General Min Aung Hlaing, Myanmar's Commander in Chief."
The veteran negotiator, who has a history of traveling to countries like North Korea to secure the freedom of detained Americans, was quoted as saying, "This is the day that you hope will come when you do this work."
The military said Yohei Sasakawa, chairman of the philanthropic Nippon Foundation and Japan's special envoy for national reconciliation in Myanmar, and Hideo Watanabe, a former posts and telecommunications minister who chairs the Japan Myanmar Association, also played a role in Fenster's release.
Sasakawa, who like Watanabe is known for his close ties with Myanmar's military, arrived in Yangon last Friday for a "personal visit" to the country, sources close to the Japanese government said over the weekend.
When Japanese freelance journalist Yuki Kitazumi was arrested in Myanmar in April, Sasakawa reportedly lobbied the military to release him. He was freed in May and returned to Japan.
Later Monday, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken welcomed the release of Fenster, who he said was "wrongly detained for almost six months," and commended those who helped facilitate it.
"We are glad that Danny will soon be reunited with his family as we continue to call for the release of others who remain unjustly imprisoned in Burma," he said, referring to Myanmar by its old name.
Since the ouster of the elected government of civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi, the military authorities have cracked down on the media by revoking licenses and arresting journalists.
Frontier Editor-in-Chief Thomas Kean expressed relief that Fenster is free, but said he is just "one of many journalists in Myanmar who have been unjustly arrested simply for doing their job since the February coup."
"We call on the military regime to release all of the journalists who remain behind bars in Myanmar," he said.