Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has called on Burma (also known as Myanmar) to release Australian academic Sean Turnell, who has been held by the military junta since February 2021.
Turnell, an Australian advisor to deposed leader Aung Suu Kyi, was arrested five days after the regime staged its coup on Feb. 1, 2021 to remove the former government.
He was then charged with violating Burma’s official secrets law and has been held in detention for the past 16 months. Burmese courts on June 10 ruled that prosecutors had gathered enough evidence against Turnell to proceed with his trial.
Speaking about the decision, Albanese said the regime’s treatment of the advisor was unjustified.
“Sean Turnell should be released. That’s the government’s position. We’ll continue to make strong representation on that basis. What we’ve seen is unjustified, and we see in Myanmar a trashing of human rights and of proper legal processes,” Albanese told reporters.
“Sean Turnell will continue to receive the full support of the Australian government for appropriate processes to take place. But he should be released.”
Foreign Minister Penny Wong echoed the prime minister’s call.
“The Australian government rejects this week’s court ruling in Myanmar against Australian professor Sean Turnell,” Wong said in a statement. “Professor Turnell has worked for Myanmar’s economic development for many years and is internationally respected for this record. We will continue to advocate for professor Turnell’s interests and well-being and will not stop until he is safely back with his family.”
Turnell is a highly regarded academic from Sydney’s Macquarie University and was director of the Myanmar Development Institute in its capital Naypyitaw. His wife Ha Vus has stood by her husband, writing on social media he had done nothing wrong.
“He worked for Myanmar by using his knowledge of economics from 20 years. He is someone who brings job opportunities and jobs to Myanmar people,” she said.
Turnell has been vocal in his criticism of the Burmese military, which he believes is resistant to change and has become an entrenched influence in the public service.
“The military will not easily eschew the power they have held on to for decades; the military budget remains completely separate from the national budget, and the civilian arm of government has no say on the military’s spending decisions,” he said.
Meanwhile on April 27, 2022, a Burmese court has ruled that deposed leader Aung San Suu Kyi will spend five years in jail after allegedly finding her guilty of 11 counts of corruption, according to Reuters. She was charged with at least 18 offences which carry a combined prison sentence of 190 years.
Suu Kyi is a Nobel laureate and the figurehead of Burma’s opposition to military rule. A source revealed to Reuters that she would appeal the verdict.