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Burma 3 July 2006

U Win Tin begins his 18th year in prison

On the eve of the 17th anniversary of the arrest of prominent journalist dissident U Win Tin, Reporters Without Borders and the Burma Media Association are calling on Burmese Prime Minister, General Soe Win, to immediately release him.

In protest at his continued detention - Win Tin is serving 20 years on a charge of "anti-government propaganda" - the two press freedom organisations are mounting a fax offensive on 4 July 2006, targeting major Burmese embassies throughout the world.

An appeal for his release and scores of pages of petitions signed by more than 5,000 people will be faxed throughout the day. The two organisations are also calling on others to mark the day with peaceful demonstrations by faxing or phoning and calling for the journalist’s release.

"The courage of U Win Tin in refusing to give way to the blackmail of the military authorities, has never faltered in his 17 years in prison. His stance in support of freedom of expression and democracy cannot allow us to forget the criminal attitude of the military junta, who is keeping in prison a sick and elderly man of 76," the two organisations said.

Since his arrest in Rangoon, on 4 July 1989, U Win Tin has been deprived of his fundamental rights, in particular those of receiving appropriate medical treatment and being allowed to write. According to the latest information, U Win Tin has to have treatment for heart and blood pressure problems and for an inflamed prostate.

Although a doctor comes to his cell to given him a twice-monthly medical check-up, U Win Tin has to rely on help from his family who regularly bring him medicine and food. After 17 years in prison, his health has considerably weakened. He has suffered two heart attacks.

Moreover it is now a year since the Burmese authorities announced, on 6 July 2005, that he was being released, but then failed to act on it. Under Burmese law, the journalist has been eligible for release for good behaviour since July 2005.

Until almost a year ago and for the past six years he had been receiving visits from representatives of the International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC). But the Geneva-based organisation suspended such visits after members of the pro-government UDSA party insisted on being present at the meetings.

Win Tin is allowed to receive a 20-25 minute visit from a family member twice a month. This visitor is allowed to bring medicine, food and magazines but a censorship bureau set up within the prison checks all written matter brought in to him.

Reporters Without Borders and the Burma Media Association urge sympathisers to go to to continue to sign the international petition for Win Tin’s release.

Over 16 years ago, Reporters without Borders created its "Sponsorship Programme" and called upon the international media to select and support an imprisoned journalist. More than two hundreds news staffs around the globe are thus sponsoring colleagues by regularly petitioning authorities for their release and by publicising their situations so that their cases will not be forgotten. Currently, Win Tin is sponsored by more than 50 media in France, Spain, Canada, Sweeden and Belgium.

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