Tim McGarry joins campaigners in welcoming release of Burma's longest serving prisoner of conscience

TV comedian Tim McGarry has joined local Amnesty International campaigners in welcoming the release of U Win Tin, a 78-year-old Burmese journalist who has been the subject of the organisation's Belfast Festival at Queen's campaign on three occasions. U Win Tin had been imprisoned for 19 years and was one of the longest-serving prisoners of conscience in the country.

U Win Tin has been the regular focus of campaigning at Amnesty International's Stand Up For Justice comedy event at the Belfast Festival. Over recent years at the festival, thousands of campaign postcards have been signed by comedy fans in solidarity with U Win Tin and other prisoners of conscience.

Comedian Tim McGarry who has supported the campaign said:

"This is great news. Always remember the pen is mightier than the sword - and a lot easier to write with."

Amnesty International's Northern Ireland Programme Director, Patrick Corrigan, said:

"This is fantastic news and long overdue. I am delighted for U Win Tin, and for the thousands of people in Northern Ireland who have campaigned on his behalf over the years."

However the fate of the other estimated Burmese 2,100 political prisoners who are still behind bars remains a cause for concern, said Amnesty International today.

Amnesty International’s Burma researcher, Benjamin Zawacki said:

"While the release of U Win Tin and his fellow prisoners is certainly the best news to come out of Burma for a long time, unfortunately they don’t even represent one percent of the political prisoners there.

"These seven people should never have been imprisoned in the first place, and there are many, many more who should also be released."

"Prisoners of conscience, like those released today, are exactly what the term says: people sent to prison simply because of what they believe, and the peaceful actions they take because of those beliefs.

"They have done nothing wrong and we call for their immediate and unconditional release."

U Win Tin is a well-known journalist, prominent dissident and senior official in the main opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) party, led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

Background

Amnesty International issued an Urgent Action to its supporters about U Win Tin in July this year. He had been in Yangon’s Insein Prison, often in solitary confinement, for much of the past 19 years and had not received the medical treatment he needed.

U Win Tin was arrested on 4 July 1989, during a crackdown on opposition political party members. He was sentenced three times to a total of 21 years' imprisonment. U Win Tin 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/leaflets in prison. The authorities characterised this as 'secretly publishing propaganda to incite riots in jail.'

U Win Tin had written a document for the UN which he called The testimonials of prisoners of conscience from Insein Prison who have been unjustly imprisoned; demands and requests regarding human rights violations in Burmain which he described torture and lack of medical treatment in prison. While the authorities were investigating the writing of this letter, U Win Tin was held in a cell designed for military dogs, without bedding. He was deprived of food and water, and family visits, for long periods.

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