Australian adviser to Suu Kyi jailed for 3 years in Myanmar

    Sean Turnell and Aung San Suu Kyi
    Sean Turnell (left)

    An Australian professor and former adviser to Myanmar’s ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi has been jailed for three years by military authorities.

    Sean Turnell was detained in Yangon in February 2021, days after the junta arrested Ms Suu Kyi and overthrew her elected government in a coup.

    Along with Ms Suu Kyi, he was charged with breaching the Official Secrets Act – which they both denied.

    They were sentenced on Thursday in trials criticised by rights groups.

    Australia also said it rejected the court’s ruling, noting their citizen had been tried in a closed court run by the junta.

    “The Australian Government has consistently rejected the charges against Professor Turnell during the more than 19 months he had been unjustly detained by the Myanmar military regime,” said Australia’s Foreign Minister Penny Wong.

    “We will continue to take every opportunity to advocate strongly for Professor Turnell until he has returned to his family in Australia.”

    On Thursday, Ms Suu Kyi was also sentenced on the secrecy charges to another three years in jail. She has already been sentenced to more than two decades in prison on over a dozen counts brought by the military government – with several charges still remaining.

    If convicted on all charges, she could face almost 200 years in prison.

    The details of the offences allegedly committed by Mr Turnell are not publicly known. At his trial in August, he strongly denied breaking the state secrets law – which carries a maximum penalty of 14 years in jail.

    The Australian economist had been a well known figure in Myanmar’s public life, after moving to the country in 2017 to advise Ms Suu Kyi’s government on economic reform.

    He had been speaking to the BBC about the military coup when he was detained in his Yangon hotel room. “So I’m just being detained at the moment and perhaps charged with something. I don’t know what that could be,” he told the BBC Newshour radio programme.

      Since his detention, there have been significant foreign efforts lobbying for his release.

      The Australian government had consistently called on the junta to release him, while Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen also appealed for his freedom in a meeting with Myanmar’s military leader General Min Aung Hlaing earlier this year.

      Mr Turnell was also convicted of breaching an immigration law on Thursday and handed a three-year sentence, which the court said he would serve concurrently.

      “Sean Turnell was denied a fair trial or adequate access to legal counsel and consular assistance. The proceedings have been an outright sham…[and] is the latest in a string of politically motivated cases,” said Amnesty International Australia Impact Director Tim O’Connor.

      Myanmar’s military overthrew Aung San Suu Kyi’s democratically elected government in February 2021 – sparking huge protests across the country and a widespread resistance movement.

      It’s estimated more than 15,600 people – including lawmakers, activists and journalists – have been arrested since the military seized power.

      Earlier this month, Britain’s former ambassador to Myanmar Vicky Bowman and her husband were both jailed for a year for breaching immigration laws. Their case is also seen to about wider political concerns than immigration offences, for which foreigners are rarely prosecuted in Myanmar.

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