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Anger as Australian Academic Jailed in Myanmar


FILE - In this image taken from video, Sean Turnell, an economist at Australia's Macquarie University, speaks during an interview at his university office in Sydney, Nov. 25, 2005.

A court in military-ruled Myanmar sentenced ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi and Australian economist Sean Turnell to three years in prison Thursday for violating the country’s Official Secrets Act. Both were detained in February 2021 when the military seized power.

Suu Kyi and Turnell, who pleaded not guilty to the charge of violating the Official Secrets Act, faced a maximum sentence of 14 years in prison.

Their trial was held in secret. Aung San Suu Kyi has now been sentenced to more than 20 years in jail on a range of charges that her supporters claim are designed to keep her out of power.

State television in Myanmar -- also known as Burma -- has said Turnell, an Australian academic, had access to "secret state financial information" and had tried to flee the country.

In a statement, Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Penny Wong said Australia rejected the court’s ruling and called for Turnell’s immediate release. Wong said that targeted economic sanctions against Myanmar were being considered.

Turnell’s friends were dismayed at his conviction.

Tim Harcourt, an economist at the University of Technology Sydney, said Turnell has been treated appallingly.

“It is outrageous,” he said. “I mean, he has been jailed for basically doing his job as an economic adviser and he has been jailed for it. It is outrageous. I think three years is too long, three days is too long. At least there is a sentence. Then there is a possibility that he will get deported. So, we are hoping in the next few days the Burmese will come to their senses and put him on a plane to Bangkok and then back to Australia.”

Suu Kyi, Turnell, and several others who are part of her economic advisory team, are among thousands detained since the military overthrew an elected government in Myanmar last February.

They include lawmakers, politicians, students and journalists.

Myanmar’s military authorities have insisted the Southeast Asian nation’s courts are independent and those facing charges are receiving due process.

In a statement, Turnell’s wife, Ha Vu, said the news of his three-year jail sentence was “heartbreaking" and that he has “worked tirelessly to strengthen Myanmar's economy.”

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