Myanmar’s junta sentenced an Australian economist to three years in prison Thursday while also handing down another conviction to ousted leader Aung Saa Suu Kyi, a source told AFP on Thursday.
Both have been detained since a coup in February last year, when the military ousted Suu Kyi’s government, for which Sean Turnell was an adviser.
“Mr Sean Turnell, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and another three were sentenced to three years imprisonment each under the Official Secrets Act,” the source told AFP, adding that Suu Kyi would appeal her verdict.
Turnell’s sentence provoked a swift reaction from Canberra, with the foreign ministry rejecting his sentence and urging his “immediate release.”
Suu Kyi has already been convicted of corruption and a clutch of other charges by a closed court. Turnell is facing another case under the country’s immigration act, which, according to the source, is ongoing.
A junta spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.
The 76-year-old Turnell was in the middle of a phone interview with the BBC when he was detained after the 2021 coup.
“I’ve just been detained at the moment, and perhaps charged with something, I don’t know what that would be, could be anything at all of course,” Turnell told the broadcaster at the time.
In August, he pleaded not guilty to breaching the colonial-era secrets act during his trial in a junta court—inaccessible to journalists—in the capital Naypyidaw.
He was facing a maximum penalty of 14 years in prison.
The exact details of Turnell’s alleged offence have not been made public, though state television has said he had access to “secret state financial information” and had tried to flee the country.
In a statement following Turnell’s conviction, Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong rejected the charges and urged his “immediate release.”
She said the economist was tried in a “closed court” and Australian officials had made “every effort to attend the verdict but were denied access.”
“We will continue to take every opportunity to advocate strongly for Professor Turnell until he has returned to his family in Australia,” she added.
Human rights organisations also condemned the sentences.
The convictions demonstrated the junta had “no qualms about their international pariah status”, said Elaine Pearson, Asia director at Human Rights Watch.
She said that “concerted action” from the international community was needed “to turn the human rights situation around in the country”.
Amnesty International’s Tim O’Connor said Turnell was denied a fair trial and adequate access to legal counsel or consular assistance.
“The proceedings have been an outright sham and Myanmar’s military must immediately release Turnell so he can return to his family in Australia,” he said.
Turnell’s friend and fellow economist Tim Harcourt expressed disappointment over the verdict.
“I do hope that like Danny Fenster, he’ll be deported in the coming days,” he told AFP, referring to a US journalist who received an 11-year prison sentence and was pardoned and deported last year.
Myanmar has been in turmoil since the military seized power in 2021, ousting Suu Kyi’s elected government.
More than 2,200 people have been killed and 15,000 arrested in the military’s crackdown on dissent since the coup, according to a local monitoring group.