MYANMAR: A court in junta-ruled Myanmar on Thursday sounded a verdict of jailing deposed leader and Nobel Peace Laureate, Aung San Suu Kyi and her former economic adviser, Australian Sean Turnell, for three years on charges of violating a secrets law, according to a source.
A source familiar with the court proceedings also said that Turnell was found guilty of violating immigration law, and was ordered to concurrently serve a 3-year sentence, according to a second source and media. Under the same law, a former British envoy, an American journalist and a Japanese filmmaker have also faced charges.
Both Suu Kyi and Turnell had pleaded not guilty to the charges they faced, which carried a maximum sentence of 14 years.
“Three years each, no hard labour,” said the source, who declined to be identified due to the sensitivity of the issue.
Suu Kyi, Turnell and several members close to her economic team are among the thousands arrested since a military coup overthrew her elected government early last year, including politicians, lawmakers, bureaucrats, students and journalists.
Before the 3-year sentence, Suu Kyi has been perennially drowned in a 23-year prison sentence in separate cases, mostly related to corruption charges. She denies all accusations levied against her.
Meanwhile, her rivals and opposition members of the military are trying their level best to block her pathway to politics and challenge the military’s power again.
A junta spokesperson refused to comment on the matter. The junta insists that Myanmar courts are independent, free from any sort of political bias and those arrested will receive punitive punishment.
Turnell, who is also a professor of economics at Macquarie University in Australia, has been in detention since a few days after the coup.
His wife, Ha Vu, who lives in Australia, said she and her family were “heartbroken” after the verdict was announced and called for him to be deported.
“Sean has been one of Myanmar’s greatest supporters for over 20 years and has worked tirelessly to strengthen Myanmar’s economy. Please consider the contributions … and deport him now,” she said in a Facebook post.
Australia now seeks Turnell’s release. Foreign Minister Penny Wong said in a statement, “The Australian government has consistently rejected the charges against Professor Turnell. It rejects today’s court ruling … and calls for his immediate release.”
Australian consular officials tasked with assisting Turnell were denied access to the court, Wong said.
Thursday’s sentencing was held behind closed doors in the capital, Naypyitaw. The defendants’ exact offence under the official secrets act remains unclear, though a source previously said Turnell’s offence “relates to an allegation that he had government documents”.
Meanwhile, an analyst for the International Crisis Group thinks tank, Richard Horsey, called the proceedings a sham and “show trial”.
“For Sean, the hope now must be that having already been in detention for almost 20 months – he will be released soon from this terrible ordeal and reunited with his family,” he said.