Newswatch | Newswatch

You are here

Ailing 79-yr-old Burmese journalist U Win Tin released after 19 years in prison

Ailing Burmese journalist U Win Tin released after 19 years in prison
Finally: U Win Tin, 79, is welcomed by a friend after getting off from a truck that took him from Insein Prison to the friend's house in Yangon September 23, 2008. Journalist Win Tin, Myanmar's longest-serving political prisoner, was freed on Tuesday after 19 years in prison and immediately vowed to continue his struggle against 46 years of military rule. Photo: Reuters / Aung Hla Tun

Burma's longest-serving political prisoner, journalist Win Tin, was freed Tuesday after 19 years in detention. He emerged from Yangon's Insein prison still dressed in light-blue prison clothes after benefiting from an amnesty announced by the military government for thousands of detainees ahead of the elections promised for 2010.

"I will keep fighting until the emergence of democracy in this country," he told reporters outside a friend's house in the former Burma's main city, Yangon.

U Win Tin is the former chief editor of the newspaper Hanthawathi, author of many articles criticising the Burmese regime, a close advisor of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi and a member of the Central Executive Committee of the National League for Democracy (NLD).

The ailing 79-year old was sentenced to three years imprisonment in 1989, another 10 years in June 1992, and an additional seven years in March 1996, making a total of 20 years. On the third occasion, he was convicted of "secretly publishing anti-government propaganda" from inside the prison. He suffered two heart attacks while in prison.

The amnesty came just days ahead of the one-year anniversary of the junta's deadly crackdown on anti-government protests that were led by Buddhist monks. Win Tin was released on the same day that 9,002 prisoners were set free, but said he had complained to prison officials about being lumped in as part of a nationwide amnesty for ordinary criminals getting out on good behaviour. In protest, Reuters reported, he refused to pick up his personal belongings or change into civilian clothes.

"I did not accept their terms for the amnesty. I refused to be one of 9,002," he said, adding that no conditions had been attached to his release. "Far from it. They should have released me five years ago. They owe me a few years," he said.

Free speech and human rights organisations have welcomed Win Tin's release.

"We are delighted that the Burmese authorities have finally released U Win Tin from prison, even though his release is long overdue," said Timothy Balding, the CEO of the Paris-based World Association of Newspapers (WAN). “We now call on the authorities to free all other journalists and human rights activists who are being unjustly held for their views." Win Tin and another Burmese journalist, San San Nweh, were awarded the 2001 Golden Pen of Freedom by WAN for their services to the cause of press freedom in Burma. San San Nweh served seven years in prison before being released in 2001.

“We worked together to defend U Win Tin’s innocence and we are immensely relieved that he has finally been freed,” Reporters sans Frontières (RSF) and the Burma Media Association said. “It is unacceptable that he was made to serve 19 years in prison for peacefully advocating democracy but today his release is an historic moment. We hope other journalists and prisoners of conscience will also be freed and that U Win Tin will be able to resume his peaceful struggle for press freedom and democracy in Burma.”

Burma, ruled by a military dictatorship that refused to recognise a victory by the National League of Democracy in 1990, is one of the world’s worst violators of the basic human right of freedom of expression. The country has no independent press and at least six Burmese journalists are currently in prison, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists: Maung Maung Lay Ngwe, imprisoned in 1990; Aung Htun, imprisoned in 1998; Ne Min, imprisoned in 2004; Thaung Sein, imprisoned in 2006; Kyaw Thwin, imprisoned in 2006; and Win Saing, imprisoned in 2007.

Date posted: September 23, 2008 Last modified: May 23, 2018 Total views: 411