“We are outraged that the Burmese authorities continue to detain a journalist this old, especially as he is ill and he has served almost all of his sentence,” the press freedom organisation said. “Their refusal to free him, although this is allowed under Burmese law, is a sad example of the military regime’s cynicism.”
Since his arrest, U Win Tin has been sentenced successively to three, ten and seven years in prison in trials held secretly inside Insein, the prison where he has spent a total of 18 years. A member of the opposition National League for Democracy, he is the only one of the NLD leaders arrested in 1989 who is still being held.
A political columnist and art critic, U Win Tin was one of the advisers of the head of the NLD, Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.
U Win Tin has been allowed special conditions of detention since 6 November 2002 but he has been weakened physically by all the years in prison.
Despite the regime’s repeated attempts to get him to abandon his political loyalties, U Win Tin has stuck to his pro-democracy stance.
But his health has suffered. He has had two heart attacks and had to be operated for a slipped disc in 1995. He has lost most of his teeth and has to wear a surgical collar because of an inflammation of the vertebrae. Ever since his arrest, he has often had to be transferred to the prisoners wing of Rangoon general hospital for treatment.
Campaigning for U Win Tin’s release
Reporters Without Borders and the Burma Media Association have undertaken many initiatives aimed at obtaining his release. In 2006, the two organisations addressed a formal appeal to the Burmese prime minister, Gen. Soe Win. They also sent an appeal to the main Burmese embassies accompanied by a petition for his release with more than 5,000 signatures.
In 2004, U Win Tin’s name appeared on a list of detainees who were about to be releases. Then deputy foreign minister Kyaw Thu told Reuters he was on a list of 4,000 prisoners who were in the process of being freed. “We would not have decreed it if we did not really have the intention of doing it,” he said. “If we do not keep our word, we will just come under more pressure, not only from our side but also from the west.”
After his release failed to materialise, Reporters Without Borders and the Burma Media Association appealed to the European Union on 6 November 2006 to maintain its sanctions against Burma’s leaders.
An appeal for resistance against the military regime was issued by U Win Tin from his cell on his 77th birthday on 12 March.
U Win Tin’s sponsors
His exemplary fight for freedom of expression has been a factor in the decisions by many news media to adopt him as an imprisoned journalist.
TF1, Le Journal du Dimanche, Télérama, Gavroche, Le Monde, Les Dernières Nouvelles d’Alsace, BFM, ARTE, Humanisme, Azur FM, Le Peuple, Paris Normandie, DESS de journalisme de l’Institut Français de Presse, Maires de France, Agriculture horizon, France 3 Sud Languedoc-Roussillon, Romans Magazine, L’Humanité, Amiens Métropole, Assas, Le Courrier Picard, Photographie.com and France Bleu Gard Lozère
Cadena Ser, Tiempo, Perfiles, TV3 Catalunya, Asociación de la Prensa de Cádiz, Agencia Cover, El Correo Español/El Pueblo Vasco, El Triangle and Cuatro TV
Ottawa Sun, Echos Vedettes, Points chauds (Télé-Québec), McGill Daily, Radio Canada, The Star Phoenix and Bernier et Cie (Radio Canada)
Le Soir magazine, Le Soir, BEL-RTL, Le Vif/L’Express, RTBF-TV, RTL-TVI, Radio Contact, Vers l’avenir, Fun Radio and Enjeux Internationaux