And about time too
So U Win Tin is finally free.
The 78-year old, Burmas longest serving political prisoner, had experienced harsh prison conditions for 19 years for calling for political change, but refused to accept an amnesty from the Government as to do so would have implied some kind of legitimacy to his internment.
Despite the length and harshness of his sentence, and his own fragile condition, U Win Tin came out fighting before he had a chance to change out of his prison clothing he announced that he would continue to fight for democracy and that he would have nothing to do with the regimes flawed elections.
Heroic stuff, and a reminder of why Amnestys exhibition highlighting a number of prisoners of conscience was titled "Heroes and Heroines". I find several lessons in this:
one is that no matter how much you try to remain detached, there will always be some stories that can reach past your defences and find a genuine sense of outrage lurking beneath all those day-to-day defence mechanisms. This case always did it for me.
the second is that in these matters you have to take humour where you can find it. And the utter guff spouted by the Burmese regime upon his release (loving motherland, were doing it because we care about the families, etc) reminds me of another of our Edinburgh Festival themes actually human rights are a laughing matter, and one of the things that really scares dictators is that people will start laughing at their pompous, overblown lies. Comedians as front-line freedom fighters? I think so, and will be watching the Secret Policemans Ball this weekend on the lookout for some quality subversion (and a few laughs).
I have the Edinburgh Festival in mind because U Win Tin was the profiled case during the 2003, 2004 and 2005 events. Ill never forget collating thousands of differently coloured postcards, all signed by Festival-goers calling for his release, then putting them together into a giant reproduction of the famous image of U Win Tin behind bars.
A marvellous display of how the small actions of thousands of people can come together to create a bigger picture. Alas also a hugely impractical end product, that could only be displayed by laying it out on the ground (pictured above). It was tough to have to move on while he remained behind bars, but last weeks good news certainly makes up for that. We moved on to feature Shi Tao and Hu Jia so heres hoping for some good news about them.
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