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Burma 20 July 2004

U Thar Ban freed after seven years in prison

Reporters Without Borders today welcomed the release from prison of 67-year-old journalist and political activist U Thar Ban, detained for more than seven years for helping a university student write about Burma’s student movement, but said it was "very concerned" about the physical and mental health of at least 10 other journalists in jail in Burma.

In a joint statement with the Burma Media Association, it regretted he had not been freed earlier. He was released on 12 July from Rangoon’s Isein prison, four months after his sentence had been completed.

A lawyer and former staff member of the government paper Kyemon (The Mirror), he has spent 12 of the past 14 years in jail.. He was imprisoned from 1990 to 1995 for his involvement in the United Nationalities’ League for Democracy (UNLD), which is linked to the opposition National League for Democracy.

He was held for several years in a prison in Kale, in his native northwestern state of Arakan, and has trouble walking and seeing. Requests to see an eye-doctor were refused. His health sharply deteriorated in 1999 but he was not allowed to go to hospital. Reporters Without Borders and the Burma Media Association have criticised what they call a "criminal and deliberate policy" by the authorities of allowing prisoners’ health to worsen. At least 72 political prisoners have died in the country’s jails in the last 25 years.

U Thar Ban worked on Kyemon from 1962 to 1978 and with various independent magazines from 1986 and 1990. He was arrested in March 1997 and accused of helping a student write articles and a book about the Burmese student movement. Thirty-one other people were arrested in the case.

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