U Win Tin, a journalist, author and poet who became a leading opponent of the military rulers of Myanmar, where he was imprisoned and tortured for 19 years, died on Monday in Yangon, formerly Rangoon. Sources differ on whether he was 84 or 85.
The political party he helped found, the National League for Democracy, announced the death. Reports in the local news media said his kidneys and other organs had failed.
Mr. Win Tin joined eight other political activists to form the National League for Democracy in 1988. Led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 for her human rights advocacy, the party won a landslide victory in national elections in 1990, but the governing generals refused to cede power.
Even before the elections, the military government placed Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest, where she remained for 15 of the next 21 years. It was widely assumed that the government had been reluctant to jail her because her father had been a hero of the nation’s independence struggle against the British and a founder of the modern Burmese army.
But the government had no compunction about incarcerating Mr. Win Tin, whom Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi and other party leaders called Saya, or “the wise one.” It accused him of being a Communist, a charge he denied.
As described in a memoir, “What’s That? A Human Hell” (2010), his imprisonment, beginning in 1989, was harrowing. He was placed in a tiny cell in what had been a dog kennel and given no bedding. He was fed sparingly and given inadequate medical care. An operation for a strangulated hernia, performed in a dirty prison hospital cell, resulted in the loss of a testicle. He lost most of his teeth in a beating and was then denied dentures. He had two heart attacks in prison. Much of the time he was in solitary confinement. He was deprived of sleep. He was denied visits from the Red Cross. New charges were often added to his sentence.
To keep his sanity, Mr. Win Tin smuggled fragments of brick into his cell and ground them into paste to write poems and philosophy on his cell walls. “I could not bow down to them,” he said in an interview with The New York Times in 2009, the year after his unexpected release.
In one of his most dangerous acts of defiance, he disseminated writing about his plight. In 1996, seven years were added to his sentence after he petitioned the United Nations about conditions in Myanmar’s prisons.
Once a year during his imprisonment Mr. Win Tin’s captors offered him a chance to renounce his political beliefs and resign from his party. Each time, he had the same response: a wordless smile. His stubbornness continued after his release. He refused to stop wearing his blue prison shirt, or a replica of it, until all political prisoners were released.
Relations between the United States and Myanmar improved after Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi’s release in 2010, with the countries exchanging ambassadors and President Obama visiting in November 2012. Washington also expressed approval that elections were held in 2012 in which the National League for Democracy won 43 of the 44 seats it sought, out of 45.
Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi led the party in that successful campaign and announced in June that she wanted to run for the presidency in 2015. Mr. Win Tin expressed gentle disapproval, saying that the system she would participate in was still corrupt because the constitution imposed by the military remained in effect.
“Some of us would like to push the military into the Bay of Bengal,” he told The Washington Post in 2013. “She only wants to push them into Kandawgyi Lake,” a reference to the heart of Yangon.
U Win Tin was born in Pegu, Burma, which in 1989 became Bago, Myanmar. He was variously reported to have been born in March of 1929 or 1930.
He earned a bachelor’s degree for his work in English literature, modern history and political science from Rangoon (now Yangon) University. He worked for Agence France-Presse and for three years was a consultant to a publishing company in the Netherlands. He was top editor of several Burmese newspapers.
In 1978, the newspaper he was editing, The Hanthawaddy Daily, was shut down for satirizing the local authorities. Military officials suspected that he had advised Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi to begin her civil disobedience campaign in 1988. During his imprisonment, Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi said his torturers “wished to force him to admit he was my adviser on political tactics; in other words, that he was my puppet master.”
After his release, Mr. Win Tin wrote a weekly column and broadcast a weekly radio show, using satire to mock the government. He founded a political journal he had conceived in jail with other political prisoners.
Mr. Win Tin, who never married, adopted a daughter who he said had been forced into exile in Australia. He left no other immediate survivors.
After his release, Mr. Win Tin, a man of deep humility, continued to eat sparingly, having one meal early in the day and a bit of fruit in the evening. “I don’t want to be a burden on anyone,” he said.