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Activists are calling on people to wear blue shirts today (21 April) in memory of the death of former political prisoner Win Tin and to remember political prisoners who remain in Myanmar jails. April 21 is the anniversary of the death of Win Tin, a former political prisoner and a hero of Myanmar’s struggle for democracy and human rights.
Win Tin, a journalist and founding member of the National League for Democracy, was one of Myanmar’s longest serving political prisoners, describing his time in jail from 1989 until 2008 as living in hell. On his release he refused to hand over his blue prison shirt, and pledged to wear a blue shirt every day until all political prisoners were released. He carried on wearing a blue shirt until his death.
Win Tin co-founded the National League for Democracy (NLD). He was imprisoned by the military government for his writings and his leadership position in the NLD. He served as the editor-in-chief of Kyemon (The Mirror), one of Burma’s most popular newspapers at that time after it was nationalized and original founder, U Thaung, was imprisoned in 1964. In 1969, he was appointed as editor-in-chief of a State owned new daily newspaper, the Hanthawaddy Daily in Mandalay by Ne Win’s military government. It became a successful one within a few years. But thanks to his unwillingness to compromise his editorial independence and his proclivity to run stories criticizing the regime, the paper was shut down and he was dismissed in 1978. He wrote Search for beauty under the pen name Paw Thit. Translations of Northern Light and Queed were his well-known works. He also wrote books on his tours in communist countries. His autobiography, What is the Human Hell, was published in 2010 and described in detail of inhuman torturing and interrogation practices in prison.
Win Tin served a 20 year sentence on charges including “anti-government propaganda.” He had tried to inform the United Nations of ongoing human rights violations in Burmese prisons. In 2001, Win Tin was awarded the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize for his efforts to defend and promote the right to freedom of expression. That year, he was also awarded the World Association of Newspapers’ Golden Pen of Freedom Award. From 2006 onward, he could not receive visits from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).
At 81, he was in a poor state of health, exacerbated by his treatment in prison, which included torture, inadequate access to medical treatment, being held in a cell designed for military dogs, without bedding, and being deprived of food and water for long periods of time.
He was freed on 23 September 2008, after serving 19 years in prison. After his release from prison, Win Tin made efforts to reorganize the NLD. He relaunched the weekly meetings of the party’s Central Executive Committee which had been irregularly held since 2003. He also resumed a regular roundtable called “Youth and Future” which Aung San Suu Kyi had participated in the past. Win Tin visited families of political prisoners to offer moral support. He set up U Win Tin Foundation to help former political prisoners and their families including scholarships for university education in 2012. Most of the awarded money was used for that purpose.
Activists express concern that little pressure has been put on the NLD led government to free remaining political prisoners. Some are in jail for protesting for their rights, some for criticizing the government or the military, and some just because of their ethnicity or religion. Young activist Thinzar Shunlei Yi is one of them. She raised her voice and asking everyone to wear any blue shirt they have today on 21st April to commemorate U Win Tin Day and to remember Myanmar has nearly 200 political prisoners behind bars & nearly 400 political prisoners facing trials for their political activities. Activist Thinzar Shunlei demands their unconditional & immediate freedom.