London, Sept.25 : Burmese journalist Win Tin, who was freed after spending more than 19 years in one of the world's most notorious jails, has said that he cannot recall how he retained his sanity during his incarceration.
"I am free, but I would like to say that I feel very sorry for my colleagues who have died in the prison," The Independent quoted him as saying on a crackling phone line from Rangoon.
"Many, many of my friends are dead. I saw them die. And there are many people left inside. The leaders of [the pro-democracy movement] are all still there," he added.
Win Tin, 78 or 79, was among more than 9,000 prisoners who Burma's military government on Monday announced were in line to be set free as part of an amnesty.
Campaigners say more than 2,000 other political prisoners remain behind bars.
Win Tin, who is also known for his poetry, was frail but in remarkably good spirits after spending 19 years and three months in solitary confinement.
After walking out of Rangoon's Insein jail on Monday, he vowed to continue his struggle against the regime that jailed him.
His arrest in 1989 was almost certainly due to his seniority in the National League for Democracy (NLD) and his close relationship with its leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, who remains under house arrest.
For a long time he was kept in a cell originally designed as a kennel and was refused bedding.
"The first three or so years were horrid, like hell," he said. "I was tortured, I was interrogated and asked about my activities ... On one occasion they questioned me for five days and five nights non-stop. I was not allowed to sleep or eat, just to have a small cup of water," he said.
On other occasions during Rangoon's damp, misty winters he was handcuffed to a seat in the prison yard and left there overnight.
"I was there from 7 p.m. to 3 a.m. and then, I would be interrogated early in the morning ... Sometimes I was hooded and I could not see who was interrogating me. Then they would beat me. I complained to the officers but they denied it and said I must have been hallucinating, yet I said I had been hit on the ears. Not just once but many times," he added.
The release of Win Tin and seven other political prisoners comes exactly a year after last September's protests, which became the largest uprising against the country's military rulers for 20 years when up to 100,000 Buddhist monks and ordinary members of the public took to the streets. The regime said it was releasing the prisoners so that they could take part in an election, scheduled to be held in 2010.