BANGKOK (AP) — A military-run court in Myanmar on Thursday sentenced former leader Aung San Suu Kyi in a separate criminal case and Australian economist Sean Turnell to three years in prison for violating the Secrets Act. Myanmar officials, a legal official said.
Suu Kyi was sentenced to three years in prison after being tried and convicted along with Turnell under the Secrets Act, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to disclose information about the case.
Three members of his cabinet were also found guilty, each receiving three years in prison.
Turnell, an associate professor of economics at Macquarie University in Sydney, had been an adviser to Suu Kyi, who was detained in the capital Naypyitaw when her elected government was overthrown by the military on February 1, 2021.
He has been in detention for almost 20 months. He was arrested five days after the military takeover by security forces of a hotel in Yangon, the country’s largest city, as he waited for a car to take him to the city’s international airport.
He had returned from Australia to Myanmar to take up a new position as a special consultant to Suu Kyi less than a month before his arrest. As director of the Myanmar Development Institute, he had already been living in Naypyitaw for several years.
The day after the military takeover, he posted a message on Twitter saying he was: “Safe for now but heartbroken about what this all means for the people of Myanmar. The bravest and kindest people I know. They deserve so much better. »
He was charged along with Suu Kyi and the three former Cabinet ministers based on documents seized from him. Exact details of their offense have not been made public, although state television said last year that Turnell had gained access to ‘secret state financial information’ and attempted to flee the country. .
Turnell was also charged with breaking immigration law, but the sentence he received for it was not immediately clear.
Myanmar’s colonial-era Official Secrets Law criminalizes the possession, collection, recording, publication or sharing of state information that is “directly or indirectly useful to an enemy”. The charge carries a maximum sentence of 14 years in prison.
All trial sessions, held in a purpose-built courtroom in the main Naypyitaw prison, were closed to the media and the public. Defense attorneys were prevented by a gag order from revealing details of the proceedings.
The same restrictions apply to all Suu Kyi trials.
The case that ended on Thursday is one of many facing Suu Kyi and is widely seen as an effort to discredit her in order to prevent her return to politics.
She had previously been sentenced to 20 years in prison after being found guilty of illegally importing and possessing walkie-talkies, violating coronavirus restrictions, sedition, electoral fraud and five corruption charges. The cases are widely believed to be concocted to prevent Suu Kyi, 77, from returning to active politics.
Suu Kyi is still on trial on seven counts under the country’s anti-corruption law, with each count carrying a sentence of up to 15 years in prison and a fine.
Defense lawyers are expected to file an appeal in the secrets case in the coming days for Turnell, Suu Kyi and three former ministers: Soe Win and Kyaw Win, both former planning and finance ministers, and Set Aung, a former vice -minister of the same ministry, said the legal official.
About half a dozen foreigners are known to have been arrested on political grounds since the military took over, and they have usually been deported after conviction.
Australia has repeatedly called for Turnell’s release. Last year it suspended defense cooperation with Myanmar and began redirecting humanitarian aid due to the military coup and continued detention of Turnell.
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, during his visit to Myanmar in January this year, called for Turnell’s release during a meeting with the head of the ruling military council. General-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing replied that he would “consider it positively”.
UN special envoy for Myanmar Noeleen Heyzer said she conveyed a specific request from Australia for Turnell’s release when she met Min Aung Hlaing in August. The Myanmar government said the general responded that if the Australian government takes positive action, “we won’t need to take harsh action.”
According to the Political Prisoners Assistance Association, a rights watchdog, 15,683 people have been detained for political reasons in Myanmar since the army took over, of whom 12,540 remain in detention. At least 2,324 civilians were killed by security forces during the same period, according to the group, although the number is believed to be much higher.
Myanmar has been in turmoil since the takeover, leading to nationwide protests that the military government has suppressed with deadly force, sparking armed resistance that some UN experts are now calling a civil war .
The Associated Press