Aung San Suu Kyi, Australian economic adviser jailed in Myanmar

Australia calls for immediate release of academic Sean Turnell who was tried alongside Aung San Suu Kyi for alleged breaches of state secrets.

Portrait of Aung San Suu Kyi in red traditional dress with flowers in her hair
The military detained Aung San Suu Kyi when they seized power in February 2021 [File: Ann Wang/Reuters]

Myanmar’s elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi has been found guilty of breaching the country’s official secrets act by a secretive military court, the latest in a string of convictions brought by the generals who removed her from office in a coup last year.

Aung San Suu Kyi was given a three-year sentence on Thursday, an official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to release information about the case, told the Associated Press news agency.

Her economic adviser, Sean Turnell, was also found guilty and sentenced to three years in jail, the official said.

Turnell, an academic at Macquarie University in Sydney, was arrested five days after the February 2021 coup. The Australian embassy was not allowed to attend his trial and he was denied a translator during proceedings.

“Three years each, no hard labour,” a source familiar with the proceedings told the Reuters news agency.

Australia said it rejected the court ruling and called for Turnell’s immediate release.

“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,” Foreign Minister Penny Wong said in a statement.

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

The exact details of their alleged offences have not been made public, although state television said last year that Turnell had access to “secret state financial information” and had tried to flee the country. Other members of her economic team were also charged in the case.

‘He has done nothing wrong’

Turnell and Aung San Suu Kyi, who is 77, both denied the allegations in the case when they testified in August.

The Australian Human Rights Institute at UNSW condemned the verdict and urged Australia to do more to hepl Turnell.

“From the beginning, it was clear that the military arrested Sean simply because of his close association with Aung San Suu Kyi, who is also in jail,” Melissa Crouch, an associate at the institute and a professor at UNSW said in a statement.

“The Myanmar military has failed to provide evidence to substantiate the charges brought against Sean for illegally possessing state secrets. He has done nothing wrong and deserves to be brought home quickly.

“The Australian government must put more resources into securing his swift release.”

Aung San Suu Kyi has already been sentenced to 20 years in prison in other cases that are widely believed to be aimed at ensuring she can never return to power in a country where she remains hugely popular.

“What we can see with all these charges being brought against her and all the sentences imposed – we think now at 23 years including hard labour – that is really a life sentence now for Aung San Suu Kyi,” said Al Jazeera’s Tony Cheng who is based in Bangkok but has reported frequently from Myanmar.

As with her previous trials, all sessions were closed to the media and the public, and a gag order barred defence lawyers from revealing details of the proceedings.

The military has cracked down on all opposition to its rule since toppling the elected government, but continues to face significant resistance.

More than 2,400 people have been killed in its crackdown on critics, and more than 12,500 people remain in detention.

In July, the generals shocked many across the world by executing four political prisoners.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies