Myanmar releases long-serving political prisoner
Wed, 24 Sep 2008 12:00a.m.
Myanmar's longest-serving political prisoner was freed today after 19 years behind bars, along with more than 9000 other prisoners across the country, just days ahead of the first anniversary of the junta's deadly crackdown on anti-government protests.
Win Tin, 78, a journalist-turned-activist who helped found Aung San Suu Kyi's opposition party in 1988, was one of at least seven political prisoners released according to Amnesty International.
There are still an estimated 2,100 political prisoners held in Myanmar, the rights group said.
Commenting on Win Tin's release, analyst Larry Jargen warned the country's regime does not do anything without good cause.
"I think the release of Win Tin and a handful of other prominent political activists is also part of a bigger strategy. First of all, it signals the start of the preparations for the election," Jargen said.
"But more importantly, it is on the eve of the crackdown on the saffron revolution and I think that it's also been timed to try and take stream out of any discontent inside the country," he explained.
The analyst emphasised the timing of the release.
"More importantly and possibly most importantly, it's timed because of the UN General Assembly. The Burmese regime knows that they are doing to be heavily criticised during this session and they tried to give their neighbours and allies, like the countries of ASEAN, China, Russia and India, ammunition to defend them at the UN by saying, 'Hey we are releasing political prisoners, give us more time'," said Jargen.
Win Tin said he would continue to wear his prison blues as a sign of protest against the junta, which has ruled Myanmar for 46 years, and he vowed to keep pressing for more freedom.
Footage from Democratic Voice of Burma, DVB, which is a pro-democracy TV station based in Oslo, showed Win Tin speaking on the telephone at a friend's home in Yangon after being released from the notorious Insein Prison.
He appeared alert and healthy despite recent reports that he is ill.
In the past, Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, called Win Tin "a man of courage and integrity" and said he was instrumental in Myanmar's democracy movement.
The mass amnesty granted to Win Tin and other 9,002 prisoners around the country was believed to be one of the largest the junta has ever granted.
State-controlled media said it was for prisoners who exhibited good "moral behaviour".
Analysts said the vast majority of the prisoners were likely petty criminals.
Win Tin was arrested on July 4, 1989, during a crackdown on opposition politicians.
Authorities initially kept him without food while interrogating him about his role in the democracy movement, the most famous Myanmar's political prisoner Suu Kyi wrote in 1996 in the Mainichi Daily News, a Japanese newspaper.
Tried in a military court, Win Tin was sentenced to 14 years in prison for allegedly being a member of the banned Communist Party of Myanmar.
He was most recently sentenced in March 1996 to an additional seven years' imprisonment for writing to the United Nations about prison conditions and for writing and circulating anti-government pamphlets in prison.
While incarcerated, Win Tin had two heart attacks, a hernia operation and suffered from high blood pressure, diabetes and spinal inflammation, according to international media groups.
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