Hold the front page: Good news from Burma

Andrew Buncombe

Win Htein1 300x201 Hold the front page: Good news from Burma

One of the obvious advantages of our online age is that it is not only bad news that spreads its way around the world in a matter of seconds. On Thursday, the junta in Burma announced that it had released Win Htein, a former aide to detained opposition Aung San Suu Kyi.

Win Htein had spent more than 14 years behind bars for daring to question the actions of the regime and most recently he had been held in a jail in the far north of Burma, a deliberate move to separate him from his family in Rangoon and make it more difficult for them to visit. The 69-year-old had been briefly released in 2008 along with half-a-dozen other political prisoners but was sent back to jail the following day; it appears that his error was to speak to a dissident radio station, the Democratic Voice of Burma, during his 17 hours of freedom and condemn the new, controversial constitution that the junta had effectively imposed upon the country. Confirming the release,  Nyan Win, a spokesman for Ms Suu Kyi’s now-disbanded National League for Democracy, told the Associated Press: ”Win Htein was released today from Kathar prison. I am very happy for his freedom, but he was released because his detention period was up.”

Earlier this year I had written about Win Htein (pic, above, by Irrawaddy) as part of a longer article on the 2,100 or more political prisoners who remain behind bars in Burma and a remarkable photographic project by London-based James MacKay to record and document the stories of those who had been freed.

I had spoken with his son, Hsan Htein, who himself fled Burma more than a decade ago at the insistence of his mother. He had told me about the how his mother, aged 59 and not in the best of health, struggled every month to make a 24-hour there-and-back to visit Win Htein in Katha jail, hundreds of miles from the family home in Rangoon. Hsan Htein said he was able to communicate with his father by letter and he told me Win Htein was “quite aware of what is happening around Burma”.

Yesterday, when the news broke that Win Htein had been released, I instinctively thought of his son, living in San Francisco, and wondered whether he had heard and how he must be feeling as his father was released from jail and taken back to his family in Rangoon.

As it was, I was delighted this morning to receive a short email from Hsan Htein, who was busy spreading the good news. It was a brief message, but within those few words you could detect both the joy and relief about his father’s release. He wrote: “Just wanted to let you know that my dad is freed and back home safe.”

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