Home > Archives (2006 on) > 2007 > September 22, 2007 > Release Veteran Burmese Journalist U Win Tin

Mainstream, Vol XLV, No 40

Release Veteran Burmese Journalist U Win Tin

Call of Public Meeting in New Delhi

Wednesday 26 September 2007

Recently, on August 18, 2007, a public meeting was held in New Delhi under the aegis of the Convention for the Restoration of Democracy in Burma to reiterate solidarity with the struggle for democracy in Burma and demand the immediate release of veteran Burmese journalist, U Win Tin.

Presided over by former Defence Minister George Fernandes, MP, the meeting was addressed by former PM I.K. Gujral; former Minister of State for External Affairs Digvijay Singh, MP; Dr Tin Swe, MP, of the National Coalition Government of Burma; Lt. Gen. (retired) Vinay Shankar; Chandan Mitra, MP; Prof Shamsul Islam of the Nishant Natya Manch; Prof Suresh Sharma of the CSDS; Ms Jaya Jaitly; representatives of the South Asia Human Rights and Amnesty International.

The former editor of the newspaper Hantharwaddy, U Win Tin, 78, has spent more than 18 years in incarceration. He was arrested in July 4, 1989 on charges of communicating with an absconding criminal. He was sentenced to three years in prison with hard labour. But just as he was completing his term, the junta under charges of helping the National League for Democracy (NLD) to incite public riots and unrest, sentenced him to another 11 years. In all, U Win Tin was sentenced thrice, each time even as he served his previous sentence. He was last sentenced in 1996.

The NLD advisor, U Win Tin, is reportedly suffering from ill-health. Since his arrest he has had two heart attacks and suffers from high blood pressure, diabetes and an inflammatory disease that has affected his spine. His poor health was exacerbated by ill-treatment, which includes torture, lack of medical attention, solitary confinement without bedding, and being deprived of food and water for long periods.

In prison he has been subjected to torture, denied medical attention, food, water for unbearable stretches and made to sleep on the floor. But the junta has failed to break his spirit.

When the Director General of the Prison Service, accompanied by the Prison Governor, visited U Win Tin on March 8, 2007, the journalist insisted on his rights as a political prisoner: “I am not going to beg you to free me. It is my right to be freed because I have served 18 years of my 20-year sentence and I qualify for early release.” The Prison Governor claimed that he did not qualify because he had not worked while in prison. U Win Tin replied that, as a political prisoner, he could not be made to work while in prison. The Director General said he was not sufficiently familiar with his case and would ask his superiors.

Despite his ill-health, U Win Tin has constantly refused to sign a document promising to give up political activities as a precondition for his release.

U Win Tin recently told a friend who is allowed to visit him: “Two prison officers asked me at a special meeting last week (in July 2007) whether I would resume political activities if I were released. I told them that I will definitely do so since it is my duty as a citizen to strive for democracy.”
U Win Tin was denied access to paper or writing material in the prison. However, the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize winner, formulated his own ink out of powder extracted from the bricks of his cell, and fashioned a pen from a piece of bamboo mat.

From his cell, U Win Tin, winner of the 2006 Reporters Without Borders award, also defended the “Suu-Hlut-Twe” platform, consisting of the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and all political prisoners (Suu), the meeting of the parliament that was elected in 1990 (Hlut), and political dialogue (Twe). “My vision, my opinions and my principles have not changed,” he said, calling on pro-democracy activists to resist repression.

U Win Tin has been awarded the World Association of Newspapers’ Golden Pen of Freedom Award, UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize winner, and Reporters Without Borders’ Fondation de France Prize for his efforts to defend and promote freedom of expression despite facing great adversity.

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