For almost two decades in Myanmar’s notorious Insein Prison, Win Tin wore the blue shirt issued to all inmates. He kept it after his release in 2008 out of solidarity with other political prisoners who remained in jail.
Now the police want it back, but Win Tin is refusing.
“So long as there are political prisoners here, I feel that I myself am still in jail, so I will wear the blue shirt,” he said, wearing a copy of the original.
Win Tin, 83, was imprisoned after helping found the National League for Democracy (NLD) with Aung San Suu Kyi, who led the fight against military rule in Myanmar and spent 15 years under house arrest. She and other NLD members now sit in parliament.
Burmese President Thein Sein was a general and a member of the junta, but now heads a quasi-civilian government that has embarked on a series of reforms over the past two years, including the release of hundreds of political prisoners.
Not good enough, says Win Tin, a celebrated journalist.
“Although I’m said to be free, I am still a prisoner, because the whole country is prisoner to this military regime,” he said, adding that the 2008 constitution should be rewritten to exclude the military from politics.
The constitution gives a quarter of the seats in both houses of parliament to the military and says serving generals should occupy the ministries of defense, interior and border affairs.
Aung San Suu Kyi has agreed to work with Thein Sein, praised the military — the modern Burmese army was founded by her father — and appeared alongside generals at a military parade in the capital, Naypyidaw, for Armed Forces Day on March 27.
“We have to cooperate to some extent, but we cannot compromise all the time,” Win Tin said. “So, I might be a very lonesome voice, not a loud voice, but I must say so all the time.”
Repression persists and the blue prison shirt is symbolic of his resistance, he said. So when an officer from Insein Township police station visited and asked him to return the shirt, saying it was state property, he declined.
“I told him that I can’t give it back and I’d rather be ready to face whatever lawsuit they wanted to file against me for this. Then he said I had to pay a 2,000 kyat [US$2] fine,” he said.
Win Tin refused to do that, too.
“He then said, after scratching his head, that they would dip into their pockets to pay the fine for me, and told me to sign a statement saying that I had paid the fine. When I told them I couldn’t sign the statement either, they left,” he said.
An officer at the station declined comment.
Win Tin was kept in solitary confinement for most of his 19 years in prison, tortured and deprived of proper food and water, but he would rather go back to prison than give up his shirt.
“If I am sent for trial and if I am sentenced to 10 years, all right, I will go,” he said. “I don’t mind.”