CPJ concerned about health of imprisoned journalist

New York, July 24, 2002—The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is gravely concerned about the deteriorating health of imprisoned journalist U Win Tin, one of Burma’s most prominent political prisoners.

A former editor-in-chief of the daily Hanthawati and vice-chairman of Burma’s Writers Association, U Win Tin, 73, is currently serving the 13th year of a 20-year sentence in Rangoon’s Insein Prison.

In early July, U Win Tin’s poor health began to dramatically decline, according to the Burma Media Association (BMA), a network of Burmese journalists working in exile. He now suffers from hemorrhoids, a urethral infection, and prostate gland problems. He is in severe pain, but is not being provided with the medications recommended by the prison doctor.

A physician pays regular visits to U Win Tin, but prison officials have not permitted him to treat the journalist’s ailments, said a BMA source, who also confirmed that friends have asked authorities to allow U Win Tin to undergo special medical treatment but have received no response.

“The injustice of U Win Tin’s detention is only compounded by such inhumane treatment,” said CPJ’s executive director Ann Cooper. “CPJ demands his immediate and unconditional release so that he can receive urgent medical care.”

On May 20, authorities returned U Win Tin to his cell from Rangoon General Hospital, where he had undergone several months of treatment for various ailments. His health has been severely affected by years of maltreatment in Burma’s prisons, including a period when he was kept in solitary confinement in one of Insein Prison’s notorious “dog cells,” formerly used as a kennel for the facility’s guard dogs. While in detention, U Win Tin has suffered two heart attacks, undergone two hernia operations, and contracted spondylitis, a degenerative spine disease.

U Win Tin was arrested on July 4, 1989, and sentenced to three years of hard labor for allegedly arranging a “forced abortion” for a member of the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD). A well-known and influential journalist, U Win Tin was active in establishing independent publications during the 1988 student democracy movement. He also worked closely with NLD leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and was one of her closest advisers.

In 1992, he was sentenced to an additional 10 years for “writing and publishing pamphlets to incite treason against the State” and “giving seditious talks.” On March 28, 1996, prison authorities extended U Win Tin’s sentence by another seven years, after they convicted him, along with at least 22 others, of producing clandestine publications—including a report describing the horrific conditions of Rangoon’s Insein Prison to Yozo Yokota, the U.N. special rapporteur for human rights in Burma.

U Win Tin has repeatedly refused to sign a letter promising to give up his political activities as a condition of his release.

U Win Tin is the recipient of UNESCO’s World Press Freedom Award for 2000 and the World Association of Newspapers’ Golden Pen of Freedom Award for 2001.