U Win Tin: Courage and Inspiration

7A47A47A4by Chris Conybeare, President, MCH  

On April 21, 2014, Burma journalist and democracy advocate, U Win Tin died at age 85. He was arrested in 1989, imprisoned and subjected to torture for speaking out against the military regime and in support of human rights. He was finally released in 2008, having become a worldwide symbol of courage.

U win Tin was the chief editor of the Hanthawathi news paper and among the leading members of the National League for Democracy (The NLD is the Party of Aung San Suu Kyi.). The military rulers continually added to his sentence. So that an initial 3 year sentence was eventually extended to 20 years!

Despite declining health and enduring some of the world’s worst prison conditions, U Win Tin continued to write, using ink made from brick dust, he wrote poetry, and commentary. He wrote a report documenting prison conditions that was smuggled to the outside world and was incorporated in the report of the United Nation’s Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Burma.

U Win Tin was awarded the prestigious Golden Pen Award in 2001 and has received numerous other accolades for his journalism and leadership in the struggle for democracy. Media Council Hawaii made him an honorary member of its Board of Directors in 2007.

He was offered release from prison if he would sign a pledge to withdraw from the NLD and cease activities as a journalist. An offer he steadfastly refused. Even when it was apparent that he and other political prisoners would be freed, it is reported that he protested being released without concurrent dropping of all charges against him.

He was finally released from jail in 2008,and in 2009, Media Council Hawaii was proud to have him speak at its Sunshine Week, Media Justice Conference, via SKYPE. When asked; “What are the most important qualities for a young aspiring journalist?” he replied, “A journalist should be part of the community and tell the truth!”

I met with U Win Tin in Yangon in 2010 and asked him about the changes taking place, and the regimes promise to transition to democracy. He answered, “They say there is light in the tunnel, but we do not know the source. What we really need to do is break out of the tunnel!”

His wisdom and courage should inspire all of us to a renewed commitment to ideals of freedom of communication and democracy. Our actions will be the best, most fitting and lasting tribute to this courageous journalist.

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