U.S. journalist Danny Fenster, sentenced to 11 years of hard labor by Myanmar's military junta on Friday, arrived back in the U.S. on Tuesday after Myanmar agreed to release him to former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson (D) on Monday. Fenster, managing editor of the online magazine Frontier Myanmar, had been jailed in Myanmar since authorities detained him at the airport in May.
Myanmar's military said in a statement on state TV that it had released Fenster at the request of Richardson and the chairman of the Japan-Myanmar Friendship Association. Richardson said Tuesday he thinks "there was a certain amount of trust between myself and the commanding general," referring to Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, Myanmar's ruler. "I treated him with respect, he treated me with respect," he said.
Some human rights activists had criticized Richardson for visiting Myanmar earlier in November and being photographed with the junta leaders who overthrew the country's democratically elected government in February. Richardson said he was laying the groundwork for Fenster's release. "I plead guilty to photo-ops and getting human beings rescued and improving the lives of human beings," he said.
Richardson has a long history convincing isolated and authoritarian governments to release U.S. captives, from Iraq and Sudan to North Korea, The Associated Press reports. His earlier successes were in the mid-1990s, but more recently he secured the release of U.S. Marine reservist Sgt. Andrew Tahmooressi, who was arrested in Mexico for crossing the border with loaded guns.
"I have chosen to reach out to him on every single case I have worked on," Jonathan Franks, a consultant who has collaborated with Richardson multiple times on efforts to free wrongful detainees, tells AP. "If the goal is to bring the American home no matter what, and to do so sort of unencumbered by politics or bureaucracy or any of the other things that kind of fall along with the government," he added, "sometimes it's just easier, I guess, for some of these folks to chat with him than it is to chat with U.S. government."