The longest-serving political prisoner of Burma, Win Tin, was released from jail on Tuesday after 19 years. One of our Burmese Observers offers an explanation to this astonishing gesture from the junta.

Win Tin, who is 79 years old, has been imprisoned since 1989, when he was sentenced to 20 years for "anti-governmental propaganda".


"Win Tin didn’t want to leave prison"

Kio is a Burmese democracy activist with ties to the opposition. He is currently exiled in Thailand. Kio is a pseudonym; he wishes to remain anonymous.

Win Tin didn't want to leave prison. He said that he didn't recognise the junta's decision to reduce his sentence and refused to sign the forms they gave him. But other prisoners who had also been told they were to be released got scared of being stuck behind bars with him and managed to convince him to leave.

He left the prison but he carried on wearing his prison clothes to demonstrate that he still considers himself a prisoner. When the jail guards wanted to take the uniform back, he told them he'd either leave wearing them or he'd leave nude. They gave up... and he's still wearing the blue overalls now.

Win Tin said that he's going to get back to political activity straight away. That, by the way, is what I think the junta calculated by releasing him. They think that he'll take control of the National League for Democracy [Aung San Suu Kyi's party] in time for the elections - which they've agreed to hold [in 2010] - but that the NLD won't win. This way they can control the elections, as always. And they know that Win Tin doesn't have the same aura as Aung San Suu Kyi in Burma.   

It is true; before his arrest, Win Tin was a man who worked behind the scenes. He advised Aung San Suu Kyi but was never in the spotlight. It's she who's the real leader. That said, his release is great news, as Win Tin is a man who stands up to people, who's going to drive the NLD to go forward and take initiative. Also, other important personalities have been released at the same time, who will also motivate the group."