UNESCO Communications News Service (24-09-2008)
Director-General of UNESCO, Koïchiro Matsuura, expressed his “immense joy” over the release by the authorities of Myanmar of U Win Tin, the 2001 laureate of the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano Press Freedom Prize, after 19 years in prison.
Aged 79, U Win Tin is the former editor of the daily Hanthawati newspaper, vice-chair of Myanmar's Writers' Association and a founder of the National League for Democracy, which is led by Aung San Suu Kyi who remains under house arrest.
He was arrested in July 1989 and was accused of belonging to the banned Communist Party of Myanmar. Condemned to 14 years jail, he received an additional sentence of five years in 1996 for breaking prison regulations prohibiting the possession of writing materials.
UNESCO promotes freedom of expression and freedom of the press and fosters media independence and pluralism as part of its fundamental mission. It does so primarily by providing advisory services on media legislation and by making governments, parliamentarians and other decision-makers aware of the need to guarantee free expression.
However, the Director General is a constant voice protesting violence against or imprisonment of journalists. The World Press Freedom Prize (named in honor of assassinated Colombian journalist Guillermo Cano) is awarded annually on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day. While, as the long prison term of U Win Tin illustrates, UNESCO is not always successful in protecting journalists, it is an important element in the global effort to assure freedom of the press.