Sep 25, 2008

Burma: Dissident Freed After 19 Years

Active ImageU Win Tin vows to continue his struggle as he is freed in Burma’s ‘seven-step roadmap to democracy'.

Below is an article published by The Financial Times:

Burma's ruling military junta yesterday [23 September 2008] freed its longest-serving political prisoner in an amnesty for 9,002 inmates that state newspapers described as "a gesture of loving kindness and goodwill" ahead of elections in 2010.

U Win Tin, 78, a poet and editor who had been a close aide of Aung San Suu Kyi, the democracy advocate, was released after 19 years in prison. His protracted incarceration in the notorious Insein Prison - where he was feared to be seriously ill - symbolised the worst face of the regime's persecution of opponents.

Mr Win Tin was arrested in 1989 for giving shelter to a girl thought to have received an illegal abortion. While in jail, his sentence was repeatedly extended, most recently in March 1996 after he wrote to the United Nations about prison conditions and circulated anti-government pamphlets to fellow inmates, which the regime deemed an attempt "to incite riots".

After his release, the septuagenarian, still clad in his prison uniform, declared: "I will keep fighting until the emergence of democracy in this country."

Mr Win Tin said no conditions had been attached to his release. He also played down worries about his health, cited as another reason for his release.

"I am quite OK. I am quite all right," he said.

State newspapers said -prisoners who had displayed good "moral behaviour" had been freed so that they could participate in elections planned for 2010 as part of the regime's "seven-step roadmap for democracy".

The Myanmar Ahlin newspaper wrote: "The government is trying to transform these convicted prisoners into citizens who can contribute to the building of a new nation."

Four former parliament members, ranging in age from 57 to 72, a personal aide to Ms Suu Kyi and a senior member of her party were also released yesterday [23 September 2008], according to the Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners. But the groups said most of the 9,002 freed in the unexpected amnesty were ordinary criminals.

Amnesty International estimates that Burma has more than 2,000 political prisoners, including Buddhist monks and other activists from the '88 Generation Students group who led last year's anti-government uprising.

The ruling junta recently arrested another high-profile dissident - a young mother who had spent more than a year on the run. Yet prisoner releases only highlight the difficulties the junta faces as they try to assert the credibility of their political reform process with so many leading dissidents, including Ms Suu Kyi, under lock and key.

"They are going to have to think about what to do with all these political prisoners," said one western diplomat. "Are they going to let them take part in the political process within the parameters that the regime has defined, or do they think these guys are too much of a threat?"