YANGON, Myanmar – Myanmar’s longest-serving political prisoner was among more than 9,000 inmates freed Tuesday, days before the first anniversary of the junta’s deadly crackdown on anti-government protests led by Buddhist monks.
Win Tin, a journalist-turned-activist and aide to pro-democracy opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, had been held for 19 years. He was one of at least seven political prisoners released, Amnesty International said.
The rights group said there are an estimated 2,100 political prisoners in Myanmar, which has been under military rule for 46 years and is one of the world’s poorest and most authoritarian nations.
A longtime journalist and poet, while in prison Win Tin wrote poems on the walls of his cell with ink made of brick powder and water, according to supporters who visited him. He said he would keep wearing his prison blues as a sign of protest against the military rulers, and he vowed to keep pressing for freedom.
“I have to continue with my unfinished task of trying to achieve democracy in Myanmar,” he said from a friend’s home in Yangon.
While incarcerated, Win Tin had two heart attacks, a hernia operation and suffered from high blood pressure, diabetes and spinal inflammation, according to international media groups. Now 78, he appeared alert and healthy despite recent reports of being ill.
The amnesty granted to 9,002 prisoners around the country was believed to be one of the largest the junta has approved.
It came days ahead of the first anniversary of the military junta’s brutal crackdown on protests led by Buddhist monks. The U.N. estimated at least 31 people were killed when the army fired on peaceful protesters Sept. 26-27, sparking global outrage.
Analysts suspect the junta timed the release as an attempt to fend off international criticism on the anniversary.
“I am certain that it is part of a political strategy,” said Josef Silverstein, a retired Rutgers University professor and Myanmar expert. “The military did not come off well in attacking the monks last year and that attack has not been forgotten.”