Twenty years in prison for “The Sage”
After more than 17 years in prison and despite faltering health, U Win Tin, 76, will not give way. In his special cell at Insein jail, near Rangoon, Saya, "The Wise", as his comrades call him, refuses to renounce his commitment to the National League for Democracy, robbed by the military junta of a landslide electoral victory in 1990. He continues to demand the unconditional release of thousands of political prisoners held in his country’s jails.
Burma’s most renowned journalist was sentenced in 1989 to 20 years in prison for "subversion" and "anti-government propaganda”. U Win Tin, who was one of the political mentors of Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi - also deprived of her freedom - is still serving the sentence which was handed down after an unjust trial.
Weakened by a urinary infection and two heart attacks, U Win Tin, has the right to two visits per month. A member of his family brings him food, medication and some news from the outside world. But the journalist is no longer allowed to write and can only read the official press.
Since the start of the year 2006, he has also been denied visits from the International Committee of the Red Cross (CICR) after the military junta decided that they could only take place in the presence of an official.
A columnist as far back as the 1960s, U Win Tin exposed corruption, the militarisation of the country and promoted peaceful resistance in the style of Mahatma Gandhi.
Burma, prison or advance censorship
Burma is one of very few countries in the world which is subjected to advance censorship. It is a positive paradise for the censors. Scissors in hand, agents of the Press Scrutiny and Registration Division check every article, editorial, cartoon, advertisement and illustration before publication. In 2005, they even began going through obituaries published in Burmese papers, chiefly to remove all references to the UN, accused of wanting to overthrow the regime. More seriously, the authorities censor independent news on the reality of the bird flu epidemic, Aids and drug-trafficking in this former jewel of the British empire.
Burmese generals in power since 1988 have for unexplained reasons transferred the country’s capital near to Pyinmana, an isolated city in the mountainous centre of the country. Two journalists were sentenced in 2006 for taking photos of this new town where the military believe themselves to be safe from a possible US invasion.
While seven journalists had their sentences reduced during a wave of prisoner releases in 2005, seven more are still in jail, including U Win Tin, whose name did however appear on the list of those freed. But the authorities seem to be still afraid of the influence of this close advisor to Aung San Suu Kyi, sentenced to 20 years in prison.
In Burma, a journalist can be given seven years in prison simply for possessing an unauthorised fax, video camera, modem or copy of a banned publication. It is also banned to watch Burma’s leading independent channel DVB TV which is broadcast by satellite from Norway.
The junta also filters opposition websites and keeps a very close watch on cybercafés, where the computers carry out an automatic screen capture every five minutes so as to ensure surveillance of Internet-users. Since June 2006, the authorities have been blocking Internet telephone and chat services such as Google’s Gtalk.
The other 2006 nominees in the “Journalist” category were:
Dawit Isaac, Eritrea
Journalist and owner of the weekly Setit, Dawit Isaac, 42, was arrested on 23 September 2001 during a major crackdown which followed the "suspension" of the privately-owned press five days earlier. He is one of 13 newspaper publishers, editors and journalists accused by the government without any evidence of being “traitors” and “spies” for Ethiopia. None of them has ever been charged. They are not allowed visits from their families or a lawyer.
Dawit Isaac has had Swedish nationality since the 1980s and was a leading figure among the young Eritrean elite. He is married and father of three children.
Hollman Felipe Morris, Colombia
Hollman Morris, 36, has become one of the leading experts in human rights and the peace process in his country which has been mired in civil war for more than 40 years. In 2003, he took control of the Contravía (misinterpretation) programme dedicated to covering the armed conflict and human rights initiatives. The programme which was first broadcast on the public station Canal Uno, is about to resume after a period of suspension.
The investigative work carried out by Hollman Morris earned him some implacable enemies. Highly critical of President Álvaro Úribe and targeted by all armed groups, he receives frequent death threats.