Reporters Without Borders and the Burma Media Association are overjoyed by today’s release of leading Burmese journalist U Win Tin after 19 years in detention. He emerged from Insein prison still dressed in prisoner clothes after benefiting from an amnesty announced by the military government for thousands of detainees ahead of elections promised for 2010.
“We worked together to defend U Win Tin’s innocence and we are immensely relieved that he has finally been freed,” the two organisations said. “It is unacceptable that he was made to serve 19 years in prison for peacefully advocating democracy but today his release is an historic moment. We hope other journalists and prisoners of conscience will also be freed and that U Win Tin will be able to resume his peaceful struggle for press freedom and democracy in Burma.”
Shortly after his release at 4 p.m., U Win Tin spoke to journalists at his home. “I am going to continue practising politics because I am a political man,” he said. “I did not sign document 401, which would have forced me to give up that role. Starting today, I am going to continue supporting Aung San Suu Kyi and the National League for Democracy. I will soon be 80, but I am not going to stop.”
Referring to the announcement of his release, U Win Tin said: “I learned of it this morning from an official, but I did not trust it. The last time they made the same promise, I was not released. That is why I refused to take off my prisoner clothes.”
The government’s New Light of Myanmar daily newspaper announced today that 9,002 prisoners are to be released in order to allow them to take part in the elections promised for 2010. A small number of political prisoners have benefited from this amnesty, which comes a year after the military junta’s ruthless crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrations.
Arrested on 4 July 1989, U Win Tin was sentenced to a total of 20 years in prison on various charges including anti-government propaganda. He had been the editor of the daily Hanthawaddy and vice-president of the Burma Writers Association as well as Aung San Suu Kyi’s political mentor.
He was mistreated on various occasions during his two decades in prison. One of these was in 1996, after the authorities discovered he had provided the United Nations with information about prison conditions. But the fact that he is well known internationally resulted in his being given a special cell and access to hospital treatment.
Aung San Suu Kyi said this about U Win Tin: “It was natural that those who believed in intellectual freedom and justice were the first to get involved in the 1988 democracy movement. From the outset, Win Tin played an active role in the Union of Writers that emerged during the movement’s first weeks. His undeniable skills and the strength of his convictions made him a priority target for those opposing the democratic cause.”
Eight journalists are still in prison in Burma. They include Zaw Thet Htwe, who is currently being tried inside Insein prison.
Latest video of U Win Tin at his house after his release (source : DVB) : http://dvb.cachefly.net/Released%20U%20Win%20Tin.wmv