Australian economic advisor to Myanmar's ousted leader given 3-year sentence

Aung San Suu Kyi given another 3 years, 3 NLD Cabinet members also sentenced.
By RFA Burmese
Australian economic advisor to Myanmar's ousted leader given 3-year sentence Sean Turnell alongside State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi in an undated photo.
Facebook: Sean Turnell

Updated at 12:51 p.m. EST on 2022-09-29

Detained State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi was sentenced to an additional three years in prison on Thursday. Sean Turnell, an Australian citizen who served as an economic advisor during the National League for Democracy-led government, and three NLD ministers were also given three year sentences.

They were prosecuted under the Myanmar Government Secrets Act, according to sources close to the court who requested anonymity for security reasons. The case was based on the contents of Turnell’s computer and some of his documents.

The three ministers prosecuted along with Turnell and Suu Kyi were NLD Government Planning and Finance Minister Soe Win, Deputy Minister of Planning, Finance and Industry Set Aung and the former Minister of Planning and Finance Kyaw Win.

Turnell was also sentenced to a further three years under the Immigration Law but the two charges will be served concurrently.

Suu Kyi has now been sentenced to a total of 23 years in prison for 12 cases.

Bo Bo Oo, MP for Dala township in Yangon region, said the prison terms were illegal. He told RFA sentencing the four was only intended to scare the people of Myanmar and strengthen the position of the junta, the State Administration Council (SAC).

Myanmar's jailed State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi attending the 10th ASEAN-UN Summit in Bangkok, on the sidelines of the 35th ASEAN Summit on Nov. 3, 2019. (AFP)

Turnell worked as an economic advisor to Suu Kyi since 2017 under the NLD-led government that was ousted in last year's military coup. He is the first foreigner close to the NLD to be detained since the coup.

Lawyer Gyi Myint said imprisoning Turnell under the Secrets Act is not appropriate because the Australian is an economist officially appointed by the NLD-led Government.

“Sean Turnell was legally hired and paid for his work by the state. How can these people who represent the State break the secrecy laws?” he said.

In a statement, Elaine Pearson, Asia director at New York-based Human Rights Watch, called Turnell's conviction "politically motivated" and "a cruel injustice."

"He was convicted after a trial in closed court without proper access to legal counsel. It’s critical that the Australian government take all necessary steps to pressure Myanmar’s junta to immediately release Turnell and send him home,” she said.

Pearson added that the junta's decision to add to Suu Kyi's punishment and convict Turnell and the three NLD ministers shows that its leaders care little for how they are viewed by the international community.

"Concerned governments should take this as a clear signal that they need to take concerted action against the junta if they are going to turn the human rights situation around in the country,” she said.

Turnell was arrested five days after the Feb. 1, 2021, coup. Australia’s then-foreign affairs minister Marise Payne called for his immediate release on the first anniversary of his detention. That call was repeated in June by current foreign affairs minister Penny Wong and Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese.

RFA emailed the Australian Embassy in Myanmar regarding his conviction, but has yet to receive a reply.

The Guardian quoted Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong as rejecting the court ruling and calling for Turnell’s immediate release.

“Prof Turnell was tried in a closed court – Australia’s chargé d’affaires and consular officials in Myanmar made every effort to attend the verdict but were denied access to the court,” Wong said. “We will continue to take every opportunity to advocate strongly for Prof. Turnell until he has returned to his family in Australia.”

The U.N. Secretary General’s Special Envoy for Myanmar Nolin Heza also requested the release of Turnell when she met with State Administration Council Chairman, Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, in Naypyidaw on Aug. 17. A similar appeal was made by Hun Sen, the prime minister of Cambodia, the current chair of the Southeast Asian regional bloc, but to no avail.

This story has been updated to include comments by Human Rights Watch's Elaine Pearson and Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong.


Add your comment by filling out the form below in plain text. Comments are approved by a moderator and can be edited in accordance with RFAs Terms of Use. Comments will not appear in real time. RFA is not responsible for the content of the postings. Please, be respectful of others' point of view and stick to the facts.