AFP, Sep 24, 2008
YANGON (AFP) – Myanmar’s pro-democracy party on Wednesday vowed to continue pushing for their leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s release after several of her close confidants were freed from prison by the ruling junta.
Seven dissidents from the Nobel peace laureate’s party were among the 9,002 prisoners freed Tuesday in an amnesty that state media said was ordered so they could take part in elections promised by the ruling generals for 2010.
The most prominent was 79-year-old journalist and activist Win Tin, Myanmar’s longest-serving political prisoner, who spent nearly two decades behind the bars of Yangon’s feared Insein prison.
National League for Democracy (NLD) spokesman Nyan Win said that although they welcomed the amnesty, they would continue to fight for the freedom of Aung San Suu Kyi, who has spent most of the last 19 years under house arrest.
“We will send an appeal for her release from detention this week to the cabinet in Naypyidaw,” Nyan Win told AFP, referring to the nation’s capital.
“We are always hoping for her release. There are still many long-serving political prisoners … All should also be released,” he added.
The release of Win Tin and the six other NLD members was immediately hailed by the United Nations, the United States and rights groups around the world.
“We worked together to defend Win Tin’s innocence and we are immensely relieved that he has finally been freed,” press freedom organisations Reporters Without Borders and the Burma Media Association said in a joint statement.
“We hope other journalists and prisoners of conscience will also be freed and that Win Tin will be able to resume his peaceful struggle for press freedom and democracy in Burma,” they added, using Myanmar’s former name.
Win Tin was sentenced to 20 years’ imprisonment on July 4, 1989 for acting as an adviser to Aung San Suu Kyi and writing letters to the then-United Nations envoy to Myanmar.
Upon his release Tuesday, Win Tin, still dressed in a blue prison-issue outfit but looking strong and healthy, vowed to journalists that he would continue to fight the ruling generals.
Human rights groups estimate that about 2,000 political prisoners are locked away in Myanmar.
Aung Naing Oo, a Myanmar analyst based in Thailand, welcomed the release of Win Tin and other colleagues of Aung San Suu Kyi but said the move showed the junta believed its hold on power was secure.
“I think the military is more confident now than before by releasing some key prisoners, including the longest-serving prisoner,” Aung Naing Oo told AFP in Bangkok.
“Maybe they think he’s no longer relevant or can no longer muster support,” he added.
Myanmar’s military government has said it will hold multi-party elections in 2010 but critics say the polls are just a way for the generals to solidify and legitimise their power.