Two journalists and writers Kyaw San (pen name Cho Seint) and Aung Zin Min have been released after seven years and three months in prison, both of them in a very weakened state. They were due for release in December 2003, but for unknown reasons served an extra three months.
Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières) and the Burma Media Association (BMA) noted their release on 1 March but strongly regretted that these two journalists had to serve their entire sentence for having simply expressed their opinions.
The two organisations repeated their demand for the release of 13 journalists who are still behind bars, in particular Win Tin who will spend his 74th birthday in prison on 12 March.
Despite his fragile state of health, the Burmese authorities have shown no compassion towards Win Tin, journalist and member of the National League for Democracy, who will spend his birthday at Insein Jail after already spending 14 years in prison, the international press freedom organisations said.
Five prisoners of opinion, including Kyaw San (Cho Seint) and Aung Zin Min, were released on 1 March 2004, on the eve of the arrival in Burma of the UN Secretary General’s special envoy Ismail Razali.
The two journalists have been able to return to their families. Aung Zin Min lives in Rangoon and Cho Seint has gone to his sister’s home in Taungoo, north of Rangoon.
Members of the military secret services (MIS) arrested both of them during student demonstrations in 1996. They were sentenced to seven years in prison under Article 5 (j) of the 1950 emergency law for having written in support of the demonstrations in articles carried by opposition publications
Kyaw San, a poet and journalist with the private cultural magazine Style-thit (New Style), had been detained in the Tharrawaddy prison (100 kilometres in the north of Rangoon). During his questioning, which took place during the beginning of the year 1997, Kyaw San was tortured. He was beaten on the head and is partially deaf as a result of this. This period of questioning, which lasted several weeks, weakened him physically and psychologically. He is the grandson of Thakin Kotaw Hmime, one of the fathers of independence with general Aung San. His family has been deprived of resources since 1962 by the military junta. Since 1997, he has received few outside visits and assistance. "Two visits in two years," according to one of former cellmate. He doesn’t get the medicine he needs to treat the diarrhoea and stomach problems he suffers from; his family is very poor. According to one of his former cellmates, he never lost his fighting spirit, and participated, in June 1998, in a hunger strike to obtain more water and the opening of cell doors during the day. The prisoners obtained their demands.
Aung Zin Min was a state employee (accountant) and a writer with Style-thit magazine. Aung Zin Min had been transferred to Thayet prison in 2001. The military tribunal had accused Aung Zin Min of belonging to the banned Burmese Communist Party. According to the journalist’s family, he was never a militant of this party.
The two organisations stressed that they oppose any lifting of political or economic sanctions against the Burmese government until all political prisoners are released and press censorship ends.