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Burma 12 March 2007

On 77th birthday, U Win Tin demands respect for his rights as detainee in Insein prison

Burma’s most famous journalist, U Win Tin, is spending his 77th birthday today in his special cell in Rangoon’s notorious Insein prison. He marked the occasion by issuing a rare call for resistance against the military regime that has imprisoned him since July 1989. He told a friend who is allowed to visit him: "All political prisoners must be freed and the democratic parliament must meet. We must not abandon these demands."

Reporters Without Borders and the Burma Media Association said: "The inhumanity of this military junta, which has imprisoned a sick, 77-year-old man for nearly 18 years, needs no further proof. By refusing U Win Tin the right to early release, the regime breaks its own laws and promises. We call for him to be freed at once."

When the director general of the prison service, accompanied by the prison governor, visited U Win Tin on 8 March, the journalist insisted on his rights as a political prisoner. "I am not going to beg you to free me. It is my right to be freed because I have served 18 years of my 20-year sentence and I qualify for early release." The prison governor claimed that he did not qualify because he had not worked while in prison. U Win Tin replied that, as a political prisoner, he could not be made to work while in prison. The director general said he was not sufficiently familiar with his case and would ask his superiors.

In the past, the prison authorities had promised the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) that U Win Tin would be released early and that his sentence would not be extended.

>From his cell, U Win Tin, winner of the 2006 Reporters Without Borders award, also defended the "Suu - Hlut - Twe" platform, consisting of the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and all political prisoners (Suu), the meeting of the parliament that was elected in 1990 (Hlut), and political dialogue (Twe). "My vision, my opinions and my principles have not changed," he said, calling on pro-democracy activists to resist repression.

Since his arrest on 4 July 1989, U Win Tin, who is serving a 20-year sentence on charges including "anti-government propaganda", has been deprived of his basic rights, including proper medical treatment and being able to write.

U Win Tin needs treatment for high blood pressure and inflammation of the prostate. Even though he is checked twice a month by a prison doctor, he is dependent on the help of his relatives who regularly bring him medication and food. His health has seriously deteriorated after 18 years in prison and he has suffered two heart attacks.

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