R E G I O N: Myanmar frees longest-serving political prisoner
* Junta releases 9,002 other prisoners
* Win Tin complains over ‘unceremonious release with ordinary criminals’
YANGON: Myanmar’s longest-serving political prisoner, journalist Win Tin, was freed on Tuesday after 19 years in jail and immediately vowed to continue his struggle against 46 years of unbroken military rule. “I will keep fighting until the emergence of democracy in this country,” he told reporters outside a friend’s house in Yangon. He was still wearing his light-blue prison clothes. The ailing 79-year old was arrested in July 1989 and sentenced to jail for giving shelter to a girl thought to have received an illegal abortion.
Other prisoners: While inside, he received additional punishment for agitating against the military government and distributing propaganda, bringing his total sentence to 20 years. He was released on the same day that 9,002 prisoners were set free, but said he had complained to prison officials about being lumped in as part of a nationwide amnesty for mainly ordinary criminals getting out on good behaviour.
In protest, he refused to pick up his personal belongings or change into his civilian clothes. “I did not accept their terms for the amnesty. I refused to be one of 9,002,” he said, adding that no conditions had been attached to his release. “Far from it. They should have released me five years ago. They owe me a few years,” he said. 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. Many human rights groups had feared his health was in severe decline, and a year ago, Win Tin himself was musing about dying behind bars. “Will death be my release? As long as democracy and human rights are not within reach, I decline my release. I am prepared to stay,” he wrote in a short poem handed to visiting United Nations human rights envoy Paulo Sergio Pinheiro.
Amnesty International said it was “elated” by news of his release, but that it was important not to forget that more than 2,100 people remain behind bars in Myanmar on account of their political or religious beliefs. London-based Amnesty researcher Benjamin Zawacki said the generals may have decided to release Win Tin for fear that his death in custody could have stoked unrest only a year after major anti-junta protests led by the revered Buddhist monkhood.
“Maybe they thought it was better, on balance, to have Win Tin on the outside in case he passes away rather than have him die on their watch, so to speak,” Zawacki said. Win Tin was one of Myanmar’s most high-profile political prisoners after opposition leader and Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been in prison or under house arrest for 13 of the last 19 years, and her deputy Tin Oo. reuters