Myanmar Opposition Party Co-Founder Win Tin Dies at 85

2014-04-21
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Members of the NLD prepare a memorial ceremony for Win Tin next to his portrait in Yangon, April 21, 2014.
AFP

Veteran journalist Win Tin, who co-founded Myanmar’s opposition National League for Democracy with Aung San Suu Kyi and became the country’s longest-serving political prisoner, died in Yangon on Monday at the age of 85.

The former newspaper editor had been receiving medical treatment since March 12 for respiratory problems and died at Yangon General Hospital as a result of multiple organ failure.

Win Tin’s family received a deluge of condolence messages from government officials, opposition politicians and foreign diplomats.

His death was a “great loss” for the country, senior NLD member Tin Oo told reporters during his funeral service at Yangon’s Judson Hall, which also included his relatives and colleagues, as well as politicians and representatives from political prisoner organizations.

“The death of U Win Tin—who had been working for freedom, justice, democracy, human rights and ethnic unity through his experience and strong morale—is a great loss for us and also a great loss for our country,” Tin Oo said.

Aung Min, a minister from President Thein Sein’s office, and representatives from the Myanmar Peace Center, which is negotiating a nationwide ceasefire agreement with the country’s armed ethnic rebels, sent letters of condolence to the funeral, while the NLD ordered its offices around the country to fly flags at half mast.

Political prisoner

Win Tin was an aide to Aung San Suu Kyi when she founded the NLD in 1988, and was jailed the following year by the then-ruling military junta for his political activities.

His sentence was extended twice—including once for writing a letter to the United Nations—for a total of 21 years, though he was released as part of a general amnesty in 2008 after serving 19 years.

During his time in prison, Win Tin was the recipient of several press freedom awards, and endured harsh treatment from his jailors, including torture, the denial of medical treatment and poor provisions.

He also suffered from various ailments, such as heart problems and high blood pressure, which were exacerbated by his conditions in detention.

Even after his release, Win Tin continued to wear a blue prison shirt as a show of support for the country’s political prisoners and in protest of military rule.

“It was with great sadness that I learned of my friend U Win Tin’s passing this morning,” U.S. Ambassador to Myanmar Derek Mitchell said in his condolence statement published on the U.S. Embassy website.

“As newspaper editor, author, poet, and for nearly two decades, political prisoner, U Win Tin was a man of rare integrity and courage, a man who dedicated his life to democratic principles, particularly the principle of press freedom, even under enormous hardship,” he said.

“U Win Tin will be greatly missed, but his example will continue to serve as an inspiration to all those everywhere who are dedicated to seeking and speaking the truth in the face of injustice.”

NLD co-founder

Win Tin worked with the NLD until Myanmar transitioned to a new quasi-civilian government headed by President Thein Sein in 2011 following historic elections, which saw the country set out on a new path towards democratic reform.

But he was also known for his criticism of what he saw as Suu Kyi’s conciliatory approach to Thein Sein’s administration and publicly disagreed with the NLD’s decision to take part in 2012 by-elections, which he said legitimized the continued military influence over politics in Myanmar.

Aung San Suu Kyi and Win Tin remained close friends until his death and spoke highly of one another’s commitment to democracy.

Although Win Tin had requested that he be cremated immediately after his death, his body will lie in state at the Yeyway Cemetery in Yangon’s North Okkalapa township until his cremation on Wednesday to allow the public to pay their respects.

The winner of the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize and the World Association of Newspapers’ Golden Pen of Freedom of Award never married and is survived by no children.

A ‘great loss’

Bo Kyi, from the Assistance Association of Political Prisoners (AAPP), praised Win Tin’s establishment of a critical foundation to support political prisoners and their families, both financially and emotionally.

“The foundation … was also very helpful in supporting education and health care for children of political prisoners” he said.

“We are very sad because we lost this person who had done very valuable work. We are discussing how to continue running his foundation in the way that he would have wanted.”

Colleagues praised Win Tin’s work as a journalist, including his secret publishing of a daily newspaper for political prisoners while in jail and his relentless investigations of political corruption, while even his competitors expressed thanks for his assistance in launching their own media outlets after his own Hanthawaddy newspaper had achieved success.

Ethnic leaders said he had worked tirelessly towards establishing a federal union that would incorporate all of Myanmar’s minority groups, who have been pushing for greater representation within the new government.

And fellow democracy activists called him a “hero” who always kept the interests of his country at the forefront of his efforts.

Min Ko Naing of the 88 Generation student group said he had received countless requests from people offering to help treat Win Tin’s condition, and that he had been grateful to hear the outpouring of support.

“[Towards the end] he became very worried for [the future of] his country,” he said.

“I want people who love him to continue working until we achieve what he wanted.”

Reported by Zin Mar Win, Kyaw Thu, Khin Khin Ei, Win Naing and Kyaw Kyaw Aung for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.