Political prisoner

Political prisoner

Born: March 12, 1929; Died: April 21, 2014

Win Tin, who has died aged 85, was a poet and journalist who became Burma's longest-serving political prisoner. He co-founded the National League for Democracy with Aung San Suu Kyi but paid a high price for it: he spent nearly two decades in prison, much of that time in solitary confinement.

He was first detained in 1989 and sentenced to three years for subversion. However, his sentence was extended twice for various reasons, the second time for writing a letter to the United Nations. While incarcerated, he suffered from ill health, including heart problems, high blood pressure and inflammation of the spine but often received no medical treatment.

In his book titled What's That? A Human Hell, which was published in 2010, he gave a vivid description of prison life - how he endured torture, was denied medical care, and was fed only rice and boiled vegetables. For the rest of his life, he wore a blue shirt as a reminder of his prison uniform and as a way to raise awareness, despite some liberalisation in Burma, that there were still political prisoners in jail.

He was born in Bago, which is about 50 miles from Rangoon, and studied history and English literature at Rangoon University. He began his career as a journalist with a French press agency before moving to Holland where he worked for three years.

It was the military coup in his homeland in 1962 which turned him from a journalist to an activist. He returned to Burma and worked as a politician, founding the pro-democracy party with Aung San Suu Kyi. When Win Tin was sent to prison, she was put under house arrest.

It was widely believed the military feared Win Tin for his strong intellect, believing he was linked to the country's former communist party and was advising Suu Kyi on political strategy and tactics.

"Immediately after his arrest, Win Tin was kept without food and sleep for three days," Suu Kyi wrote about his imprisonment, saying they were trying "to force him to admit that he was my adviser, in other words, my puppet master". She called him a man of courage and integrity who would not be intimidated into making false confessions.

While in prison, Win Tin was denied pen and paper so wrote poems on the walls of his cell with ink made of brick powder. Friends and associates also managed to keep in touch with him and he wrote to the United Nations to describe the conditions in which he was being held (an act which led to his sentence being extended for a second time).

Freed in a general amnesty of prisoners in 2008, he continued working with the NLD through Burma's transition from military rule to an elected - though army-dominated - government in 2011. He continued to call on the military to relinquish power, saying democracy would never come to Burma as long as the military continued to dominate the political landscape. He also started a foundation to give assistance to current and former political prisoners.

He remained close to Suu Kyi but was also sometimes critical of her tactics in dealing with the military, chiding her for her conciliatory relationship with its leaders. Despite their differences of opinion, he said he respected her commitment to democracy.

Suu Kyi sending a handwritten note for his funeral service which read: "I pay my respects to Saya U Win Tin for raising the dignity of the NLD, Burmese politics, the country and mankind," she wrote. "Saya" means "teacher".