Win Tin, a 78-year-old former journalist, was released after 19 years in Insein prison in the city of Rangoon. For much of the time he was held in solitary confinement, including a period in a room intended for prison dogs.
“I will keep fighting until the emergence of democracy in this country,” he said in Rangoon, a few hours after his release. He was still wearing his blue prison overalls as a symbol of rejection of the spin put on his release by the Government — that it was part of an “amnesty” of 9,002 prisoners to “turn them into citizens to be able to participate in building a new nation. I did not accept their terms for the amnesty,” Mr Win said. “I refused to be one of 9,002. They should have released me five years ago. They owe me a few years."
Mr Win, a poet and former magazine editor, was an adviser of Aung San Suu Kyi. He was sentenced to 21 years in prison in 1989 during a crackdown on government opponents. In 1996 he received an additional seven-year sentence for writing a testimonial on torture and lack of medical treatment in Insein, and sending it to the UN. As a punishment he was forced to sleep in a room intended for military dogs and was deprived of food and water.
At least six other political prisoners were released yesterday, at a time when Burmese are remembering the brutal suppression of democracy demonstrations last year. The amnesty may be an attempt to pre-empt commemorations of the peaceful uprising with a move that will win approval from Western governments and human rights groups.
Amnesty International estimates that there are 2,100 political prisoners in Burma. “These seven people should never have been imprisoned in the first place, and there are many, many more who should also be released,” Benjamin Zawacki, of Amnesty International, said.
While it it pleasing to see Win Tin released it is only a drop in a bucket – a token gesture. The people of Burma will not see better times until their regime is swept into the dustbin of history.
Aung Sang Suu Kyi remains under close arrest.