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Burma 31 May 2002

Great concern over plight of journalists Sein Hla Oo and Win Tin

Reporters Without Borders and the Burma Media Association (BMA, in exile) called today for the immediate release of imprisoned journalists Sein Hla Oo, who has not been heard of since February 2002, and Win Tin, who has just been returned from hospital to Rangoon’s Insein jail, where he has been held for the past 13 years.

"Only a few days after you said there were no longer any political prisoners in Burma, we have had alarming news about the plight of these two journalists jailed for having expressed their opinions," said Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard in a letter to interior minister Col. Tin Hlaing, of the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC).

Reporters Without Borders and the BMA reiterated their opposition to any lifting of European or US sanctions against the country’s military regime without the release of all political prisoners, especially journalists, and the ending of censorship.

Col. Tin Hlaing said on 19 May, after the release from house arrest of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, that the country had no more political prisoners.  About 200 members of the National League for Democracy (NLD) were in jail, he said, but they were "common law criminals."  However, Reporters Without Borders has identified at least 16 journalists in prison and Amnesty International says there are at least 1,500 political prisoners in Burma.

Win Tin, a well-known journalist, dissident and member of the NLD who celebrated his 72nd birthday last 12 March in detention, was returned to his special cell at Insein prison last week after several months in Rangoon’s general hospital.  A close adviser of Aung San Suu Kyi, he was convalescing after a hernia operation and in early March was visited in hospital by the UN Special Rapporteur for Burma, Paulo Sergio Pinheiro.

Officials at the jail in the northern town of Myitkyina are refusing to give any information about journalist Sein Hla Oo, who has been a prisoner there since 1997.  The Interior ministry has reportedly banned all visits to the 15 political prisoners in the jail.  Sein Hla Oo’s wife last visited him at the end of February, but has been denied permission to see him since then.  Relatives of other political prisoners have been refused access too, including the wife of regime opponent Dr Khin Zaw Win in the middle of this month.

Sein Hla Oo’s sentence expired last August, but he was not released and no explanation was given.  Last June, he was operated on for a slipped disc and after a few days’ convalescence was returned to prison.  His wife, who lives in Rangoon, has visited him several times at the prison, where conditions are very harsh and prisoners suffer from malaria, the cold, brutal guards and very bad food.  Sein Hla Oo is one of the NLD’s 17 members of parliament who have not been freed since the start of talks between the military rulers and Aung San Suu Kyi.

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