Myanmar activist told to return jail uniform four years after being freed

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 11 April, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 11 April, 2013, 2:22am


More than four years after he was freed by the junta, Myanmar's longest-serving political prisoner has been ordered to return the uniform he was wearing on the day of his release.

Veteran democracy activist Win Tin, 83, who spent almost two decades in jail for his political activities, said that he no longer had the blue shirt and sarong-like longyi, and was refusing to repay the cost of about US$2.

"I told them I cannot reimburse them because I didn't steal it," said the former journalist, who is a close aide of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

I told them I cannot reimburse them because I didn't steal [the unifrom]

Win Tin, who has worn blue-coloured shirts since his release in solidarity with fellow dissidents still in jail, said he had refused an offer by a court official to reimburse the cost on his behalf.

"I have no idea why they asked for it after five years," he said, adding that he believed he could potentially face 10 more years in jail for theft of public property. "It doesn't matter if I die in prison," he said.

There was no comment from court and police officials.

Win Tin was imprisoned in 1989 in the wake of a student-led pro-democracy uprising. He was freed by the former military junta in September 2008 from Yangon's notorious Insein prison as part of an amnesty.

He said he had refused to change out of his prison uniform on that day because he did not believe he would really be freed.

"The prison officials told me at that time that they would sue if I didn't take off my uniform," he said. "I told them to go ahead. I told them that they could release me naked if they were too busy to sue me."

Since junta rule ended two years ago, President Thein Sein has been praised for overseeing dramatic political reforms including the release of hundreds of political prisoners and Suu Kyi's election to parliament.

But Win Tin said he wanted the world to know that Myanmar was still not truly free.

"Although I was released five years ago, I feel like I'm still in prison," he said. "So I've been wearing the colour of my prison uniform for [nearly] five years to show my unity with remaining political prisoners," he said.

Myanmar's junta once kept about 2,000 political opponents, dissidents and journalists in jail.

Estimates of the number remaining vary but the Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners believes there are still 222 locked up.