Veteran Myanmar journalist and activist Win Tin dies at 85

In a file picture taken on September 23, 2008, Win Tin, the longest-serving political prisoner in the military-ruled nation, talks with friends and some journalists after his release from Insein Prison in Myanmar's biggest city Yangon. The co-founder
In a file picture taken on September 23, 2008, Win Tin, the longest-serving political prisoner in the military-ruled nation, talks with friends and some journalists after his release from Insein Prison in Myanmar's biggest city Yangon. The co-founder of Myanmar's pro-democracy opposition and the nation's longest-serving political prisoner died on April 21, 2014, his party said, after battling for decades to bring freedom to the formerly junta-run country. FILE PHOTO: AFP

Mr Win Tin, 85, a hugely respected former journalist, who wrote poems on the wall of his prison cell as he endured incarceration for almost two decades, died in Yangon on Monday morning after suffering kidney failure last week.

"Uncle" Win Tin as he was known, was also a co-founder of the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD), and spent more than 19 years in prison - roughly the same amount of time as NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

During those years, he was at one stage kept in a cell designed as a dog kennel. He was made to sit outdoors all night in chains on cold Yangon winter nights, and he was hooded and beaten.

"It was hell," he told journalists when he was released in 2008 - but he kept his blue prison shirt even after his release and wore it sometimes as a gesture of defiance.

He was also the NLD's conscience-keeper - one of the very few who had the seniority and respect to disagree with Ms Suu Kyi when he thought it was warranted. He was wary of Ms Suu Kyi's détente with the army after her release and rehabilitation in 2011.

"He was a man of dignity and courage... and a beacon of light for all journalists," said senior Associated Press correspondent in Yangon, Ms Aye Aye Win, whose father Sein Win - also a legendary journalist who died late last year - used to send Mr Win Tin vitamins in prison.

A spokesman for the NLD, Mr Nyan Win, told media in Yangon on Monday morning: "He was a great pillar of strength. His demise at this important juncture of transition is a great loss not only to the NLD but also to the country."

nirmal@sph.com.sg