The Irrawaddy Magazine
By SAW YAN NAING
Burma’s longest-serving political prisoner, 78-year-old journalist Win Tin, was freed on Tuesday after 19 years behind bars. Win Tin was among 9,002 prisoners released, only a handful of whom were political detainees.
The freed political prisoners included another well-known writer, Aung Soe Myint, and four members of the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD)—Khin Maung Swe, May Win Myint, Win Htein and Than Nyein.
A close friend of Win Tin, Maung Maung Khin, told The Irrawaddy the long-serving political prisoner had been released unconditionally and in good health.
“He didn’t need to sign any conditional agreement with the Burmese authorities,” Maung Maung Khin said.
The state-run newspaper, New Light of Myanmar, confirmed on Tuesday that 9,002 prisoners had been released.
Win Tin, formerly editor of the influential newspaper Hanthawaddy, vice-chairman of the Writers’ Union, and an active participant in the 1988 pro-democracy uprising, was arrested in 1989 and sentenced to 20 years on charges that included “anti-government propaganda.”
Win Tin won international recognition for his pro-democracy involvement, and in 2001 he was awarded the World Association of Newspapers Golden Pen of Freedom and the UNESCO Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize.
He suffered heart and prostate problems during his imprisonment, and two rights organizations, Reporters Without Borders and the Burma Media Association, charged that he had been denied “proper medical treatment” and the opportunity to write.
Since 2006, he had been denied visits by the International Committee of the Red Cross.
Around 2,000 political prisoners are now believed to be detained in Burma’s prisons.
Tate Naing, secretary of the Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma), called for the release of them all, including Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been held under house arrest for more than 13 of the past 19 years, and leading members of the 88 Generation Students group.
Suu Kyi’s lawyer, Kyi Win, said on Tuesday that a legal appeal against her continuing house arrest would be lodged in Naypyidaw on Thursday.
At least 39 activists were arrested last month alone, and 21 of them were sentenced to terms of imprisonment, according to the AAPP.
Burmese observers in exile suggested Tuesday’s amnesty was linked to the start of the 63rd session of the UN General Assembly in New York. They pointed out that prisoners had been released in the past in times of growing pressure on the regime.
In a political development, the NLD called on Monday for a review of the new constitution by a committee formed of candidates elected in the 1990 general election, representatives of the regime and ethnic groups and constitutional experts.