“He is a madman,” said Khin Maung Swe, the party’s 71-year-old chairman, who spent nearly as long in prison himself. “He just wants to die in prison as a martyr.”
But across town, other former political prisoners, such as 37-year-old Aye Aung, who was sentenced to 59 years in jail in 1998 but released last July, says Win Tin is right to stick to his principles. Suu Kyi, he argues, has been losing touch with the people since she joined parliament and is not taking a strong enough line with the army. The military is so rooted in power, he warns, “we need a revolution” to remove it.
Political prisoners remain
At formal events, Win Tin’s colleagues wear traditional collarless shirts and jackets; he says that he often feels “very awkward” in his blue shirt but that it can’t be helped. Although about 1,000 political prisoners have been released in a series of amnesties in the past decade, more than 200 remain behind bars from the era of the pro-democracy movement. More have been arrested in the past year, for taking part in unlicensed protests or for involvement in separatist movements.
The government last month convened a committee to review the cases of everyone still behind bars, fulfilling a promise made just before President Obama’s visit in November. But released prisoners complain that they are still routinely denied passports, as well as entry to universities to resume studies interrupted by long jail terms.
Despite his concerns, Win Tin ended a two-hour interview on an optimistic note. While he has reservations about her tactics, he still strongly believes in Suu Kyi’s commitment to democracy and obviously still respects her. If anyone can tame the generals, she can, he says.
Meanwhile, rising press freedom and growing political awareness among the people have created a powerful force for change.
At the headquarters of his own party, the 72-year-old party secretary, Nyan Win, said Win Tin’s viewpoints, and his warnings about the risks the party has taken, still command enormous respect.
“We don’t want to say his opinion is wrong. Maybe it is right,” he said. “We are trying to tame the lion, and there are many risks.”