BANGKOK (AP) – A court in military-ruled Myanmar convicted former leader Aung San Suu Kyi in another criminal case yesterday and sentenced Australian economist Sean Turnell to three years in prison for violating Myanmar’s official secrets act, a legal official said.
Suu Kyi received a three-year sentence after being convicted with Turnell under the secrets law, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorised to release information about the case.
Three members of her Cabinet were also found guilty, each receiving sentences of three years.
Turnell, 58, an associate professor in economics at Sydney’s Macquarie University, had served as an adviser to Suu Kyi, who was detained in the capital Naypyitaw when her elected government was ousted by the army on February 1, 2021.
He has been in detention for almost 20 months. It was not immediately clear if that time would be deducted from his sentence.
Family and friends expressed hope he will soon be freed and deported, as has occurred with other foreigners in Myanmar convicted of political offences.
“It’s heartbreaking for me, our daughter, Sean’s 85-year-old father, and the rest of our family to hear that my husband, Professor Sean Turnell, was convicted and sentenced to three years’ imprisonment, his wife Ha Vu, also an economist, said on her Facebook page.
“Sean has been one of Myanmar’s greatest supporters for over 20 years and has worked tirelessly to strengthen Myanmar’s economy.
“My husband has already been in a Myanmar prison for almost 2/3 of his sentence. Please consider the contributions that he has made to Myanmar, and deport him now!”
Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong’s office rejected the court’s ruling and called for Turnell’s immediate release. Decrying that he had been “unjustly detained”, her office said Australian diplomats had been denied access to the court hearing for the verdict.
“We will continue to take every opportunity to advocate strongly for Professor Turnell until he has returned to his family in Australia,” it said in a statement. “Professor Turnell is internationally respected for his work to support the people of Myanmar and their economic development.
“He’s a great economist, nice bloke and a great human being. His main cause in life is to reduce poverty around the world and he’d developed particular expertise in Myanmar,” Tim Harcourt, a professor at the University of Technology Sydney and longtime friend, said of Turnell. ”Hopefully common sense and justice can prevail and Sean can return to his wife and family in Australia soon.”