Australian academic Sean Turnell sentenced to three years in prison after secret trial in Myanmar | Burma
Aung San Suu Kyi and Australian academic Sean Turnell who served as her adviser have been sentenced to three years in prison after a closed trial in Myanmar, according to reports.
Turnell, an economist at Macquarie University in Sydney, was first arrested last year on February 6, days after the military toppled Myanmar’s elected government, throwing the country into chaos.
Turnell was later accused of violating Myanmar’s official secrets law and over the past year has appeared alongside co-defendants including the ousted leader and three of her former cabinet members.
A source, who declined to be named due to the sensitivity of the issue, told Reuters that Turnell and the ousted leader were sentenced to “three years each, without hard labour”. Both had pleaded not guilty.
Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong rejected the court’s decision and called for Turnell’s immediate release.
“Professor Turnell was tried behind closed doors – the Australian Chargé d’Affaires and consular officials in Myanmar made every effort to attend the verdict but were denied access to court,” Wong said.
“We will continue to take every opportunity to strongly defend Professor Turnell until he returns to his family in Australia. We acknowledge the strong international support for him, including from our region. »
There is very little information on legal proceedings involving political prisoners in Myanmar, where more than 15,600 people have been arrested since last year’s coup. Hearings are not accessible to journalists and defense lawyers have been gagged for not speaking to the media.
Aung San Suu Kyi had previously been sentenced to 20 years in prison for separate cases and is still facing trials.
The military accused Turnell of possessing confidential documents when he was arrested last year, according to the Irrawaddy news site. Turnell reportedly denied the charge and said the documents were not confidential but were economic recommendations he had given in his capacity as an adviser to Aung San Suu Kyi’s government.
The case against him has been widely condemned by rights groups.
Elaine Pearson, Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said the sentences handed down were a “cruel injustice”.
“The junta’s willingness to impose sentences on Aung San Suu Kyi, as well as Australian economist Sean Turnell and three of his ministers, shows that the Burmese military has no qualms about its pariah status international.
“The governments concerned should take this as a clear signal that they must take concerted action against the junta if they are to reverse the human rights situation in the country,” she said. Turnell had been denied proper access to counsel, she added.
Turnell has worked on economic and banking issues in Myanmar since the early 2000s, focusing on promoting reform and growth. He served as special economic consultant to Aung San Suu Kyi and senior economic adviser to the Minister of Planning, Finance and Industry. Prior to that, he worked at the Reserve Bank of Australia.
Last month, as UN special envoy to Myanmar Noeleen Heyzer met with junta leader Min Aung Hlaing to call for a de-escalation of violence in the country, she also conveyed a demand from the Australian government calling for Turnell’s release.
The junta-controlled media later published what they claimed was a transcript of their meeting, in which Min Aung Hlaing said: “In relation to the case of Mr Sean Turnell, if the Australian government takes positive, we would not need to take drastic measures. Shares. In the case of Mr. Sean Turnell, the evidence shows that severe penalties could be imposed.
At least 15,683 people have been arrested since the army seized power in a coup on February 1, 2021, and 12,540 remain in detention, according to the Association for Assistance to Political Prisoners, which tracks arrests and murders.
Other foreign nationals detained include former British ambassador to Myanmar Vicky Bowman and Toru Kubota, a Japanese filmmaker.