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Burma 16 May 2002

Sein Hlaing freed after 12 years in prison

After 12 years in prison - and two years before the end of his sentence - Sein Hlaing, co-publisher of the cultural magazine Yin-Kyae-Mu, was freed from Tharrawaddy jail (100 km north of Rangoon) on 14 May 2002. RSF’s correspondent spoke to the journalist by telephone. Sein Hlaing confirmed that he was in good health but said he would need time to readjust to his freedom. He thanked the human rights organisations that have been campaigning for his release. The journalist, who benefited from a special amnesty along with nine other opponents of the military junta, is due to meet Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of the National League for Democracy (NLD) on 17 May. Aung San Suu Ki was freed from house arrest on 6 May 2002.

Sein Hlaing was arrested by members of the MIS on 9 September 1990, along with the journalist Myo Myint Nyein and the poet Nyan Paw. In November 1990 he was sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment for having publishing an article entitled "What’s going on?", which was critical of the attitude of the Burmese army, in the magazine he co-published with Myo Myint Nyein. On 28 March 1996, Sein Hlaing received an additional seven-year sentence for having contributed to a report sent to the United Nations’ special rapporteur for Burma, containing information about prison conditions and the ill treatment of prisoners detained in the Insein jail, and for his involvement in the editing of an underground publication within the prison. After six years in the Insein jail in Rangoon, Sein Hlaing was transferred to N° 3 block in the Tharrawaddy jail.

Forty-five-year-old Sein Hlaing was an active member of the NLD from its inception in 1990. He was in charge of the opposition party’s youth section in Rangoon.

Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières - RSF) and the Burma Media Association (BMA), an organisation of Burmese journalists in exile, welcomed the release of the journalist, but regretted that the authorities had delayed this decision for so long, given that Sein Hlaing was very weak as a result of the particularly difficult conditions in the prison. RSF and BMA, together with media sponsors and thousands of individuals who signed petitions, had been campaigning for his release for a number of years.

As far as RSF is aware, at least sixteen media professionals are still in jail in Burma. The organisation is particularly concerned about the fate of the journalist Sein Hla Oo, whose prison sentence ended in August 2001, but who has still not been freed. In addition, the journalist and NLD founder member, Win Tin, held in Insein jail since 4 July 1989, is in a very weak state after numerous illnesses.

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