Suu Kyi and Australian economist Sean Turnell jailed under secrets act in Myanmar

Wife of Sydney-based associate professor calls for him to be freed and deported

Sean Turnell (pictured in 2005) was arrested in Myanmar five days after the military takeover by security forces at a hotel in Yangon, the country’s biggest city. AP
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Myanmar has jailed former leader Aung San Suu Kyi and Australian economist Sean Turnell for three years each for breaching its official secrets act, a legal official told AP on condition of anonymity.

Three members of Ms Suu Kyi's Cabinet were also found guilty on Thursday, each receiving sentences of three years.

Mr Turnell, 58, an associate professor in economics at Sydney’s Macquarie University, had served as an adviser to Ms Suu Kyi. She was detained in the capital Naypyitaw when her elected government was ousted by the army in February 2021.

Mr Turnell has been in detention for almost 20 months. It was not immediately known if that time would be deducted from his sentence.

Family and friends expressed hope he would 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 Mr 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.

A court in military-ruled Myanmar convicted former leader Aung San Suu Kyi in another criminal case on Thursday. AP

“We will continue to take every opportunity to advocate strongly for Professor Turnell until he has returned to his family in Australia,” it said. “Professor Turnell is internationally respected for his work to support the people of Myanmar and their economic development.”

Tim Harcourt, a professor at the University of Technology Sydney and long-time friend, praised Mr Turnell.

“He’s a great economist, nice bloke and a great human being," he said. "His main cause in life is to reduce poverty around the world and he’d developed particular expertise in Myanmar.

”Hopefully common sense and justice can prevail and Sean can return to his wife and family in Australia soon.”

Mr Turnell was arrested five days after the military takeover by security forces at a hotel in Yangon, the country’s biggest city.

He had arrived back in Myanmar from Australia less than a month before that to take up a new position as a special consultant to Suu Kyi. As director of the Myanmar Development Institute, he had already lived in Naypyitaw for several years.

'They deserve better'

The day after the military’s takeover, he posted on Twitter: “Safe for now but heartbroken for what all this means for the people of Myanmar. The bravest, kindest people I know. They deserve so much better.”

The five co-defendants were charged on the basis of documents seized from Mr Turnell. The exact details of their offence have not been made public, though state television said last year that Mr Turnell had access to “secret state financial information” and had tried to flee the country.

Mr Turnell and Ms Suu Kyi denied the allegations when they testified in their defence at the trial in August. Mr Turnell was also charged with breaching immigration law, but it was not immediately known what sentence he received for that.

Updated: September 29, 2022, 10:08 AM