Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Myanmar frees longest-serving political prisoner

YANGON (Reuters) - Myanmar's longest-serving political prisoner, journalist Win Tin, was freed on Tuesday after 19 years in prison and immediately vowed to continue his struggle against 46 years of military rule.

"I will keep fighting until the emergence of democracy in this country," he told reporters outside a friend's house in the former Burma's main city, Yangon. He was still wearing his light-blue prison clothes.

The ailing 79-year old was arrested in 1989 and sentenced to 20 years in jail for giving shelter to a girl thought to have received an illegal abortion, and for distributing anti-government propaganda.

He was released on the same day that 9,002 prisoners were set free, but said he had complained to prison officials about being lumped in as part of a nationwide amnesty for mainly ordinary criminals getting out on good behaviour.

"I did not accept their terms for the amnesty. I refused to be one of 9,002," he said, adding that no conditions had been attached to his release.

"Far from it. They should have released me five years ago. They owe me a few years," he said.

He also played down worries about his health, which many human rights groups had feared was in severe decline.

"I am quite OK. I am quite all right," he said.

(Reporting by Aung Hla Tun; Writing by Ed Cropley; Editing by Alan Raybould and Valerie Lee)

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