Australian Advisor to Aung San Suu Kyi Remains in Detention in Burma

By Cindy Zhan
Cindy Zhan
Cindy Zhan
Cindy Zhan is a reporter based in Australia. She covers national news with a focus on China-related issues. Got a tip? Contact her at
February 7, 2022Updated: November 30, 2022

Australian economist Sean Turnell remains in detention in Burma (also known as Myanmar) as the Cambodian Prime Minister apologised for giving the wrong information that he had been released.

Prof. Turnell is a former advisor to the ousted Burmese leader Aung San Suu Kyi. He has been detained for a year after being arrested on Feb. 6, 2021, five days following a coup started by the country’s military junta, which ousted Suu Kyi’s elected government.

Along with Suu Kyi and three of her former Cabinet ministers, Turnell was charged with violating Burma’s immigration and official secrets acts, which has a maximum penalty of 14-year jail term.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen was quoted on Monday by Agence Kampuchea Presse (AKP), Cambodia’s national press agency, as saying that he welcomed Turnell’s release by Myanmar junta leader Aung Min Hlaing, following Sen’s lobbying on behalf of Australia.

“The release is indeed to the senior general’s credit, but at least I also contributed as the rotating chair of ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations),” the government-friendly Fresh News service reported him said.

Hun Sen, the first leader to visit Burma since the coup, was there to push an ASEAN-backed Five-Point Consensus forward.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen speaks at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, on Jan. 22, 2019. (Ng Han Guan/Pool via Reuters)

The Prime Minister issued a statement later on Monday, saying he had been mistaken.

“In reality, the Australian national was not released,” Prime Minister Hun Sen said in a Facebook post late on Monday. “The confusion is because of me getting information wrong; please forgive me for the unintentional mistake.”

A Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade spokesperson told AAP on Monday that according to Burmese authorities, “Professor Sean Turnell remains detained.”

Meanwhile, the Australian government has again called on the military regime in Burma for Turnell’s immediate release, and for his rights and welfare to be upheld.

“Professor Turnell’s detention is unjust, and we reject the allegations against him,” Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne said in a statement on Feb. 6.

“We once again call for Professor Turnell’s immediate release so that he can return to Australia to be with his family and for his rights and welfare to be upheld.”

The Foreign Affairs Minister said the DFAT is providing all possible consular assistance to Turnell, including ensuring he can speak to his family and the Australian Embassy, as well as supporting his health and welfare in detention. DFAT is also providing consular assistance to Turnell’s family.

“Consistent with basic standards of justice and transparency, we expect that Professor Turnell should have unimpeded access to his lawyers and that Australian officials be able to observe his court proceedings,” she said.

Turnell is still waiting for his trial to start.

Around 11,000 people had been detained since the military coup, according to activists.