RANGOON — Tens of thousands of Burmese supporters gathered at a cemetery in Rangoon on Wednesday to pay tribute to one of the country’s most respected democracy activists, Win Tin, who passed away on Monday at the age of 84.
People from all walks of life, from Buddhist monks to politicians, braved the scorching summer heat to attend the five-hour wake and funeral service at Yay Way cemetery in the northern part of the former capital.
Members of the National League for Democracy (NLD) party, which Win Tin co-founded, waited in line starting at 12 pm to enter the funeral parlor. They were joined by leaders of the 88 Generation Peace and Open Society, civil society leaders, journalists, activists and diplomats.
The road to the cemetery was choked with traffic throughout the afternoon. Outside the parlor hall, trucks carrying bouquets and wreaths were decorated with red NLD flags at half-mast.
“It is the finest funeral I have ever seen,” an employee who has worked at the cemetery for 10 years told The Irrawaddy.
In addition to co-founding the NLD, Win Tin was a veteran journalist for decades and an adamant supporter of free speech. He was an open critic of the Burmese government and endured physical torture during his nearly 20 years as a political prisoner.
He died on Monday morning due to organ failure while seeking treatment for several health ailments at a general hospital in Rangoon.
For mourners, the wake and funeral were a final opportunity to honor the democracy champion.
“I came here to pay my respects to Saya Win Tin,” said Win Mya, an NLD member. “For us, he is a symbol of courage. There is nobody else like him in Burma today.”
In the funeral parlor, a large black-and-white portrait of Win Tin adorned a wall in the hallway, while several dozen wreaths and bouquets were laid at the foot of a wooden coffin draped with an NLD flag. Beside the wooden coffin, Win Tin lay in state in another glass coffin, wearing his trademark prison-issued blue shirt and thick glasses, with a red rose resting on his chest.
The wake was attended by NLD chairwoman Aung San Suu Kyi, NLD patron Tin Oo, and senior members from other political parties. US Ambassador to Burma Derek Mitchell was also among the mourners, along with British Ambassador to Burma Andrew Patrick and two officials from the Chinese Embassy in Rangoon.
Some of the supporters wore blue shirts with Win Tin’s portrait sketched on the front.
“As an ethnic person, I feel very sad for his death, because he always raised ethnic issues and the ceasefire issue whenever he spoke,” Aye Tha Aung, president of the Arakan League for Democracy, told The Irrawaddy.
Min Ko Naing, a leader of the 88 Generation Peace and Open Society, remembered Win Tin’s insistence on unity in the fight for democracy.
“You see today how people are responding to the love he had for the country. … I just want to repeat one of his last words, to remember him: Don’t lose your hands,” Min Ko Naing said, referring to an image of the Burmese people holding hands in a common effort.
At 4:15 pm, NLD members paid their last respects by bowing their heads and observing a minute of silence. Win Tin was then moved from the glass coffin into the wooden coffin and carried to a burial site several kilometers away from the parlor.
In a eulogy, Tin Oo, the NLD patron, said the death of Win Tin was not only an immeasurable loss for the NLD, but also for Burmese literature, national reconciliation and the peace struggle.
“As a founder of the NLD, he served his duty well,” Tin Oo said.
A few moments later, mourners called out in unison, “May Uncle Win Tin rest in peace,” before the coffin was entombed.
Win Tin’s tomb was draped in blue velvet, with an epitaph that read: “May you differentiate between what is right and what is wrong, always stand on the right side, and fight against what is wrong.”