YANGON, Myanmar – Win Tin, a prominent journalist who became Myanmar's longest-serving political prisoner after challenging military rule by co-founding the National League for Democracy, died Monday, He was 85.
He had been hospitalized with respiratory problems since March 12 and died at Yangon General Hospital.
A former newspaper editor, Win Tin was a close aide to opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, another founder in 1988 of the pro-democracy party. In 1989, she was put under house arrest and Win Tin was sent to prison for his political activities. His sentence was extended twice for various reasons, the second time for writing a letter to the United Nations.
"He was a great pillar of strength. His demise at this important political juncture of transition is a great loss not only to the NLD but also to the country. We are deeply saddened," said Nyan Win, a spokesman of National League for Democracy.
While incarcerated, he received several international press freedom awards, but also suffered from ill health, including heart problems, high blood pressure and inflammation of the spine. In his book titled "What's that? A human hell," published in 2010, Win Tin gave a vivid description of prison life -- how he endured torture, was denied medical care, and fed only rice and boiled vegetables.
Freed in a general amnesty of prisoners in 2008, he continued working with the NLD through Myanmar'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 will never come to Myanmar 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.
"I lose a colleague and the country loses a great journalist." said journalist Khin Maung Lay, who has known Win Tin for at least five decades.
While in prison Win Tin wrote poems on the walls of his cell with ink made of brick powder and water, according to supporters who visited him. After he was released, he kept wearing his blue prison shirt as a sign of protest against military rule.
It was widely believed that 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, U 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.
"A man of courage and integrity, Win Tin would not be intimidated into making false confessions."
But the outspoken Win Tin was sometimes critical of Nobel peace laureate Suu Kyi's 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.