The World Association of Newspapers has welcomed the release from prison of U Win Tin, the longest serving political prisoner in Burma and the 2001 laureate of WAN’s Golden Pen of Freedom prize.
“We are delighted that the Burmese authorities have finally released U Win Tin from prison, even though his release is long overdue,” said Timothy Balding, the CEO of the Paris-based WAN. “We now call on the authorities to free all other journalists and human rights activists who are being unjustly held for their views.”
The ailing 79-year-old journalist and founding member of the National League of Democracy spent 19 years in prison. An Agence France-Presse reporter witnessed him leaving the notorious Insein prison on Tuesday.
U Win Tin was among 9,000 prisoners reportedly ordered released ahead of elections promised in 2010. Only a few of them are believed to be political prisoners.
Burma, ruled by a military dictatorship that refused to recognise a victory by the National League of Democracy in 1990, is one of the world’s worst violators of the basic human right of freedom of expression. The country has no independent press and at least six Burmese journalists are currently in prison, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists: Maung Maung Lay Ngwe, imprisoned in 1990; Aung Htun, imprisoned in 1998; Ne Min, imprisoned in 2004; Thaung Sein, imprisoned in 2006; Kyaw Thwin, imprisoned in 2006; and Win Saing, imprisoned in 2007.
WAN, along with other press freedom groups and the United Nations, had for years been waging a campaign for U Win Tin’s release.
U Win Tin and another Burmese journalist, San San Nweh, were awarded the 2001 Golden Pen of Freedom for their services to the cause of press freedom in Burma. San San Nweh served seven years in prison before being released in 2001.
U Win Tin is the former chief editor of the newspaper Hanthawathi, author of many articles criticising the regime, a close advisor of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi and a member of the Central Executive Committee of the National League for Democracy.
He was sentenced to three years imprisonment in 1989, another ten years in June 1992 and an additional seven years in March 1996, making a total of 20 years. On the third occasion, he was convicted of “secretly publishing anti-government propaganda” from inside the prison. He suffered two heart attacks while in prison.