Failing Health, Regime Cruelty Can’t Break Win Tin
By YENI Wednesday, July 9, 2008


Among the more than 1,000 political prisoners in Burma, one merits particular attention.
Win Tin, the country’s longest-serving prisoner of conscience, wins international respect, support and sympathy because of his exemplary courage and refusal to bow before his oppressors.

Although in failing health, 78-year-old Win Tin has reportedly spurned regime offers to free him in exchange for his disavowal of all he has ever fought for. Unbroken by nearly 19 years incarceration, this distinguished journalist continues to write in his cell despite all official attempts to block his efforts. Denied writing material and even books, he writes with a strip of bamboo as a pen and powdered brick as ink.

Win Tin was a prominent opposition politician before his imprisonment in 1989—a key member of the Central Executive Committee of the National League for Democracy (NLD) led by detained Noble laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.

He championed academic, artistic and press freedom and earned the title Saya (mentor) from young followers.

Win Tin was born in 1930. In 1953, he received his Bachelor of Arts degree in English Literature, Modern History and Political Science from Rangoon University. From 1950 until 1954, he worked as an assistant editor of the government-run Sarpay Beikman (Burma Translation Society).

He worked in the Netherlands for the Djambartan publishing company as a consultant until 1957 and then returned to Rangoon to take up the post of executive editor of the city’s best-selling daily newspaper Kyemon daily. From 1969 to 1978, he was chief editor of the Mandalay-based daily Hanthawaddy, one of the most influential newspapers in the history of the Burmese press.

In 1978, a paper critical of the regime of the then dictator Gen Ne Win regime was read at the "Saturday Reading Circle," in which Win Tin was a leading member. Consequently, he was dismissed from his job and the newspaper was shut down. But he continued to write articles and books.

The nationwide uprising in 1988 changed his life for ever. Win Tin joined the opposition NLD and became one of the secretaries of the executive committee. He was arrested, accused of belonging to the banned Communist Party of Burma and, in October 1989, sentenced to prison.

Even then he continued to write, and in 1995 he contributed a report to the UN, entitled
The testimonials of prisoners of conscience from Insein Prison who have been unjustly imprisoned, demands and requests regarding human rights violations in Burma,” in which he described torture and lack of medical treatment in prison.

While the authorities investigated, he was confined in a cell designed for military dogs, without bedding. He was deprived of food and water, and was refused family visits, for long periods.

In recognition of his courage, Win Tin was awarded UNESCO’s Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize in 2000. The following year, he was awarded the World Association of Newspapers’ Golden Pen of Freedom.

Last week, reports emerged suggesting that Win Thin’s health is declining and that he’s in urgent need of proper medical attention. He suffers from severe asthma, lung problems, heart disease and spondylitis (inflammation of the joints of the spine).

The London-based rights advocacy group Amnesty International said: "Win Tin’s health has suffered because of the poor conditions in which he has been held. He has had difficulties breathing and eating during the recent worsening of his health."

Win Tin is probably resigned to dying in prison, but that thought doesn’t seem to daunt this courageous man. "Will death be my release?” he has asked. “As long as democracy and human rights are not within reach, I decline my release. I am prepared to stay [in prison]."

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