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Journalist U Win Tin's health deteriorating after 19 years in jail, denied promised early release

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders and the Burma Media Association (BMA) have called for the immediate release from prison of celebrated journalist U Win Tin, whose health has deteriorated badly in the past few days.

The 78-year-old is suffering from lung problems with severe asthmatic attacks which prevent him from sleeping and eating properly. A relative who visited him on 28 June 2008 found him thin and weak.

"It will be exactly 19 years on 4 July since Burma's military arrested Win Tin. The government, which has a responsibility to protect the life of its citizens, should now release him", the worldwide press freedom organisation and the BMA said. "He should be moved to a hospital as quickly as possible".

At least ten journalists and one blogger are currently in prison in Burma.

The military junta has never kept a promise it made to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) that Win Tin would benefit from an early release. The director general of prisons and the governor of Insein jail have since 2007 refused to accord him this right under the law because he had never worked during his imprisonment.

Win Tin had refused on the grounds that as a political prisoner he could not be forced to work during his detention.

Win Tin was sentenced to 20 years in jail, chiefly on a charge of making "anti-government propaganda". He has not been allowed any further visits from ICRC representatives since 2006.

Even if his renown has meant he has been better treated than most prisoners of conscience, his health has slowly worsened. He has had heart problems on several occasions and has high blood pressure. Win Tin had an operation for a very painful hernia in January. He was sent back to his special cell at Insein jail after a few days of convalescence and treatment.

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