PEN mourns death of veteran Burmese journalist Win Tin

PEN International joins tributes to veteran Burmese journalist and activist Win Tin

PEN International mourns the death of veteran journalist and pro-democracy activist Win Tin, who died on 21 April 2014 at the age of 85. He had been hospitalized with respiratory problems since early March and died at Yangon General Hospital.

‘Win Tin was the model of a man who was faced with every form of suffering, and over a sustained time, and yet kept his clarity and purpose,’ said PEN International President John Ralston Saul, who visited him in hospital with author, human rights activist and surgeon Dr Ma Thida, President of PEN Myanmar, during a recent trip to Myanmar. Dr Thida – herself sentenced to twenty years in prison in 1993 – is a close friend and colleague of Win Tin, and has spent much of the past two weeks by his bedside.

Members of many PEN Centres joined international campaigns for Win Tin’s release throughout the many years of his imprisonment. Myanmar’s longest-serving political prisoner at the time of his release from prison in 2008, Win Tin was an honorary member of Hong Kong PEN, PEN America, English PEN and Japan PEN.

Win Tin, former editor-in-chief of Hanthawati, and Vice President of the Journalist’s and Writer’s Association of Burma, was arrested on 4 July 1989 and originally sentenced to three years in prison for harboring an “offender for whom a warrant had been issued”—charges that were apparently fabricated.

In 1992 he was sentenced to an additional 11 years in prison for a variety of offences linked to his opposition activities. In March 1996 he was among 21 Insein Prison detainees who were tried for having published a clandestine magazine inside the prison and possessing radio sets. For this he received another seven years, bringing his total sentence to 20 years.

Win Tin suffered from poor health and endured appalling torture and other ill-treatment throughout his imprisonment, vividly depicted in his prison memoir titled “What’s that? A human hell”, published in 2010. In an interview shortly after his release in 2009 he describes how he smuggled fragments of brick into his cell and ground them into paste to write poems and philosophy on his cell walls.

He was released in an amnesty on 23 September 2008, just 10 months before the expiry of his sentence.

Win Tin continued to wear his prison uniform after his release in solidarity with other dissidents who remained behind bars and in opposition to military rule. ‘My future plan is to keep fighting till the military dictatorship ends,’ he declared. His death comes at a time of critical transition for the country, which is preparing for general elections in 2015.

‘PEN International sends its deepest condolences to Win Tin’s family and friends, many of whom are members of the newly established Myanmar PEN’ said Marian Botsford Fraser, Chair of the Writers in Prison Committee. ‘The entire PEN family stands in solidarity with our colleagues in Myanmar PEN at this critical time.’