U Win Tin, Burma’s longest held journalist, released

New York, September 23, 2008—The Committee to Protect Journalists welcomes the release of U Win Tin, the longest serving political prisoner in Burma, and one of the world’s longest-jailed journalists. The 79-year-old former editor had at least two heart attacks and suffered from high blood pressure, a degenerative spine condition, and diabetes since his 1989 internment related to involvement in the opposition National League of Democracy.

“The release of a venerable journalist like U Win Tin must be welcomed, but keep in mind that he served 19 years of a brutal and unjust 20-year sentence in Burma’s infamous Insein prison,” said Bob Dietz, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator. “There are at least six more journalists still locked up in the junta’s jails, a fact that is not lost on anyone who is familiar with this government and its ruling generals. They are doing everything within their power to suppress the media.”

Before his arrest, U Win Tin was the editor of the newspaper Hanthawathi and widely criticized the military regime. As a member of the Central Executive Committee of the National League for Democracy, he was a close associate of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, the party’s leader, who remains under house arrest in Rangoon.

U Win Tin was released as part of a general amnesty that included the release of some 9,000 prisoners today, ahead of elections promised in 2010. Only a few of them are believed to have been political prisoners, according to international news reports.

The periodic release of a journalist as part of a larger amnesty is not unheard of in Burma. In January 2007, CPJ Press Freedom Award winner Thaung Tun was set free as part of a New Year amnesty for nearly 3,000 prisoners. U Win Tin has been eligible for early release since July 2006. Exile sources told CPJ that a jail warden told him he was not entitled to early release because he had not performed hard labor—a message he was given on the day he expected to be set free along with documentary filmmaker Aung Pwint and freelance journalist Sein Hla Oo and more than 240 other prisoners.