Call on Malaysian government,  Parliament and ASEAN to campaign for the immediate release of the 2001 World Press Freedom Prize laureate, Burmese editor U Win Tin who has served 12 years of 20-year sentences

Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang

(Penang, Tuesday): The  Malaysian government,  Parliament and ASEAN should  campaign for the immediate release of the 2001 World Press Freedom Prize laureate, Burmese editor U Win Tin who has served 12 years of 20-year sentences imposed by the Myanmese military junta.

The UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize, instituted in 1997, is intended to honour each year a person, organization or institution that has made an outstanding contribution to the defence and/or promotion of press freedom anywhere in the world, especially if some risk was involved.

This year's laureate is  U Win Tin, 70,  former editor of the daily Hanthawati newspaper in Myanmar, vice-chair of Myanmar's Writers' Association and a founder of the National League for Democracy.

Arrested in July 1989, he was accused three  months later of being a member of the banned Communist Party of Myanmar and sentenced to 14 years in prison and transported to Insein jail in Rangoon.

In 1996, U Win Tin was tried in prison and sentenced to an additional five years for breaking prison regulations prohibiting the possession of writing materials. Later that year he was moved to Myingyan jail north of Rangoon, where his family and friends could no longer visit him or send him food and medicine.

In early October 1997, he was transferred to Rangoon General Hospital, where he remains and is reported to be seriously ill. His prison sentence will only end in July 2008, unless he renounces all political activities, which he refuses to do.

The Malaysian Government, Parliament and ASEAN should respond to the  joint message of the United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson and UNESCO Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura on the occasion of the World Press Freedom Day 2001 which falls on Thursday, 3rd May 2001 calling upon “decision-makers at all levels to do whatever they can to ensure that journalists can pursue their work unhindered and undeterred, so that people throughout the world can benefit from the free flow of ideas”.

They  urged the international community to defend and protect a fundamental human right - the right to receive and impart information free from censorship, through any media and regardless of frontiers.

Thursday, 3 May 2001 marks the tenth anniversary of World Press Freedom Day. Ten years ago, in 1991, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) recommended that the UN General Assembly proclaim 3 May World Press Freedom Day. This special day was established by the United Nations on 20 December 1993, in order to remember and celebrate the fundamental principles of press freedom as well as to  encourage and develop press freedom initiatives.

The Malaysian Government,  Parliament and ASEAN should act as responsible international players to give meaning to the 2001 World Press Freedom Day by helping to remind governments to respect their commitments to press freedom and offer support for media workers who fall victim to any number of measures that restrain, or seek to abolish, freedom of the press.

Such an activist stand by the Malaysian Government,  Parliament and ASEAN is long overdue  as human rights should be mainstreamed as one of the national, regional and international priorities in keeping  not only with   international but regional commitments to human rights, such as:

Malaysian Foreign Minister, Datuk Syed Hamid Albar should have raised the issue of the immediate release of  2001 World Press Freedom Prize laureate, Burmese editor U Win Tin with his Myanmese counterpart Win Aung when he attended  the one-day ASEAN  Foreign Ministers informal meeting in Yangon yesterday.

If he had not done so, it should be placed high on Malaysia’s ASEAN agenda, calling in the Myanmese Ambassador to convey the government’s call for the immediate release of U Win Tin as well as giving it priority at the ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in Hanoi in July.


*Lim Kit Siang - DAP National Chairman