Burma: A tribute to Win Tin, Burma’s voice of reason

Press release

Paris, Bangkok, 22 April 2014: With the death of Win Tin, Burma loses its voice of reason and an extraordinary example of dedication, perseverance, and courage in the face of tyranny and oppression, FIDH and its member organization ALTSEAN-Burma said today. Veteran journalist, senior NLD leader, and Burma’s longest-held political prisoner, Win Tin died at Rangoon General Hospital on 21 April. He spent over 19 years in jail until his release from Rangoon’s notorious Insein prison on 23 September 2008, at the age of 78.

Win Tin was one of Burma’s finest journalists, an indomitable pro-democracy campaigner, and a shining symbol of resistance to the country’s military dictatorship. His unwavering dedication to the struggle of freedom and democracy is a legacy for generations to come – not only for Burma but for the entire world,” said FIDH President Karim Lahidji.

Up to the very end, Win Tin spoke truth to power,” said ALTSEAN-Burma Coordinator and FIDH Secretary-General Debbie Stothard. When many were applauding the recent progress in Burma, we needed Win Tin to remind us of the sober reality of the country’s flawed reform process. He will be greatly missed but never forgotten,” she added.

Win Tin was born in Gyobingauk Township, Pegu Division, on 12 March 1930. He began his career in journalism in 1951 as an editor at the AFP bureau in Rangoon. In 1954, he became editor for a Dutch newspaper company. In the 1970s, he was the editor-in-chief of the Mandalay-based newspaper Hanthawaddy, until Burma’s General Ne Win shut it down in 1978. In 1988, he was one of the founding members of the National League for Democracy (NLD).

In July 1989, Burma’s ruling military junta arrested him as part of a crackdown on the NLD. He was subsequently sentenced to three years in prison. In June 1992, a few months before his prison term was due to expire, he was again tried and sentenced to an additional 11 years in jail on charges of inciting unrest. In 1996, he was sentenced to another seven years in prison for attempting to inform the United Nations about the appalling detention conditions in Burma’s prisons.

While in prison, Win Tin was tortured and subjected to long periods in solitary confinement. Despite this adversity, he continued to write political articles, poems, and reports about prison conditions. While incarcerated, Win Tin received several international press freedom honors and awards. The most notable were the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize and the World Association of Newspapers’ Golden Pen of Freedom Award, both awarded in 2001. On several occasions, he refused the junta’s offers of early release because he believed it would have implied that the reason for his imprisonment was legitimate.

Soon after his release, Win Tin resumed his political activities with the NLD. Battling ill health, Win Tin tirelessly campaigned for democracy and human rights, particularly for the release of Burma’s political prisoners. In a symbolic protest against the ongoing detention of dissidents, Win Tin refused to return his prison shirt and vowed to wear it until all of Burma’s political prisoners were released.

In 2012, he set up a foundation that provides financial assistance to hundreds of former and current political prisoners and their families. Amid the recent international appeasement towards Burma’s rulers, Win Tin remained a staunch critic of President Thein Sein’s military-backed administration and dubbed its reform efforts as “superficial democracy.”

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