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U Win Tin, denied Red Cross visits, to spend 76th birthday in jail

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders and the Burma Media Association called for the unconditional release of Burma's best-known journalist, U Win Tin, as he prepared to spend his 76th birthday on 12 March 2006 in his special cell in Rangoon's notorious Insein prison.

The two press freedom organisations have also appealed for people to sign on an international petition for his release.

Since his arrest on 4 July 1989, U Win Tin, who is serving a 20-year sentence on charges including "anti-government propaganda", has been deprived of his basic rights, including proper medical treatment and being able to write.

Since the start of 2006 he has no longer been able to receive visits from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

According to recent information, U Win Tin currently needs treatment for high blood pressure and inflammation of the prostate. Even though he is checked twice a month by a prison doctor, he is dependent on the help of his relatives who regularly bring him medication and food.

His health has seriously deteriorated after 16 years in prison and he has suffered two heart attacks.

U Win Tin is entitled to a twice-monthly visit from a relative for 20 to 25 minutes. They are allowed to bring him medication, food and magazines, but a censorship bureau within the prison checks all documents brought in to him.

The authorities twice wrongly announced his release, in November 2004 and in July 2005. Under Burmese law he has been eligible for release for good behaviour since July 2005.

Over the past six years, U Win Tin had been receiving regular visits from ICRC representatives, but the Geneva-based organisation no longer visits Burmese prisoners, since the members of the UDSA movement, close to the government, demanded to be present during interviews.

Reporters Without Borders and the Burma Media Association pointed out the importance of Red Cross visits to Burmese political prisoners and urged the government to stop obstructing the organisation's work. Since May 1999, the ICRC has made more than 450 visits to around 80,000 prisoners.

Reporters Without Borders has obtained two previously unpublished photos showing U Win Tin with Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, to whom he was a close advisor. The leader of the National League for Democracy has been under house arrest since May 2003 and has spent ten of the past 16 years in detention.

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