December 8, 2022

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Aung San SuuKyi, Australian economist jailed 3 years by Myanmar court

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BANGKOK – Deposed Myanmar leader Aung San SuuKyi was handed a three-year prison term on Thursday for breaching the country’s Official Secrets Act, several media outlets have reported.

This adds to the existing 20 years jail she is serving for a range of offences, including electoral fraud, corruption and violating Covid-19 pandemic restrictions – charges widely thought to be trumped up to end her political career.

On the same day, Australian economist Sean Turnell was also sentenced to three years in prison for breaching the same law.

Turnell, a former economic advisor to Myanmar’s ousted civilian government, was detained shortly after the military coup in February 2021, and accused of having confidential documents in his possession. He pleaded not guilty.

His wife pleaded for his release on Thursday, saying his jailing in Myanmar is “heartbreaking” for his whole family.

“It’s heartbreaking for me, our daughter, Sean’s 85-year-old father and the rest of our family,” Ms Ha Vu said in a statement.

“My husband has already been in a Myanmar prison for almost two-thirds of his sentence. Please consider the contributions that he has made to Myanmar, and deport him now,” she added.

Like many other people prosecuted by the military junta, the academic from Australia’s Macquarie University was tried under secretive conditions, with his lawyers barred from speaking to the media. He had faced up to 14 years in prison.

Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong criticised the ruling against Turnell, an Australian citizen, saying he was tried in a closed court with no consular access.

Canberra will “advocate strongly” for Turnell until he is returned to his family, Ms Wong said, after the academic was imprisoned under the Official Secrets Act.

Australia has contested the charges during the 19 months that Turnell has been “unjustly detained by the Myanmar military regime”, she added.

“The Australian government rejects today’s court ruling… and calls for his immediate release,” Ms Wong said.

Myanmar’s military junta alleges that the 2020 general election won resoundingly by Ms SuuKyi’s National League for Democracy party is fraudulent and plans to hold fresh elections in 2023.

However, it is grappling with resistance from new armed groups that have sprung up in response to the coup. The rival National Unity Government, composed of ousted parliamentarians and allied groups, claims that the junta now controls only half the country.

Over 12,000 people have been detained by the junta since the coup, according to data from the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners. At least 2,300 people have been killed.

Turnell is among a handful of foreign nationals who have been detained and charged by the Myanmar junta since the coup.

On Sept 2 this year, former British ambassador Vicky Bowman was sentenced to one year in prison for breaching immigration laws. She and her husband, Myanmar artist Htein Lin, were detained in August in Yangon, after they had returned from their home in Shan state. She was accused of failing to register a change of residential address.

American journalist Danny Fenster was arrested in May last year, and sentenced in November to 11 years in prison for incitement and violating Myanmar’s laws on immigration and unlawful associations. Days after his conviction, he was released and deported.

Meanwhile, Japanese freelance journalist Yuki Kitazumi was arrested in April last year and accused of spreading fake news. He was freed in May that year, a decision the junta-controlled media said was made “in consideration of cordial relations between Myanmar and Japan up to now and in view of future bilateral relations, and upon the request of the Japanese government special envoy on Myanmar’s national reconciliation”.

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