(Text from Irrawaddy Magazine and Photos from Internet and Khet Htan’s Data Bank)
U Win Tin
While the fate of the estimated 2,100 Burmese political prisoners who are still behind bars remains uncertain and a cause for wide concern, one long-imprisoned dissident did win his freedom in 2008—the 79-year-old journalist Win Tin, who returned home in September after 19 years in Rangoon’s notorious Insein Prison.
Win Tin was a prominent opposition politician before his imprisonment in 1989—a key member of the Central Executive Committee of the National League for Democracy (NLD) led by detained Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. He also championed academic, artistic and press freedom and earned the title “Saya” (mentor) from his many young followers.
Suu Kyi has called Win Tin “a man of courage and integrity,” and said he was instrumental in founding the country’s democracy movement. Win Tin, in turn, has described Suu Kyi as “the true leader.” Asked about claims that Suu Kyi was in no position to break the political deadlock in Burma, Win Tin told The Irrawaddy: “I have no doubt about her personality, knowledge and leadership skills. I trust her.”
Ma Ein Khaing Oo
While the Burmese regime remains obsessed with controlling the flow of information into and out of the country, local journalists and ordinary citizens continue to risk arrest, imprisonment and torture to shed light on the true situation in Burma.
Ein Khaing Oo, a 24-year-old reporter for the Rangoon-based weekly Ecovision, is just one of many reporters who have fallen foul of the authorities for having the audacity to tell the truth. On June 20, she was arrested for writing about a protest by about 20 survivors of Cyclone Nargis in front of a UN office in Rangoon. She was later sentenced to two years imprisonment.
U Khin Maung Aye and U Htun Htun Thein
According to the media rights watchdog Reporters Without Borders, the number of Burmese journalists placed behind bars since the beginning of the year had reached ten by November. Khin Maung Aye, editor of the News Watch weekly journal, and Htun Htun Thein, a reporter for the same publication, were arrested on November 5 for publishing an article about corruption in the country’s courts.
Ko Nay Phone Latt
The regime also targeted so-called “citizen journalists” who have used the Internet to circumvent the draconian censorship that continues to hobble traditional media.
In November, Nay Phone Latt, 28, a pioneering Burmese blogger, received a prison sentence of 20 years and six months for violating the 1996 Computer Science Development Law, which forbids the use of computers to carry out “any act which undermines State Security.”
Daw Aye Aye Win
The international community, meanwhile, honored Associated Press reporter Aye Aye Win, who received the 2008 Journalism and Courage Award from the International Women’s Media Foundation. Aye Aye Win, who has worked as a reporter in Burma for nearly 20 years, said in a written acceptance speech that reporting in the country is a “risky business.”