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Australian Government Urges Release Of Academic In Myanmar

Australian academic Sean Turnell is facing serious charges of breaching Myanmar’s official secrets after a military overthrow.

CANBERRA, Australia — The Australian federal government is calling for Myanmar’s military regime to release an Australian man who worked as an economic advisor to deposed leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Sean Turnell, along with Suu Kyi and three of her deposed cabinet ministers, was charged a week ago in a Yangon court with breaching official secrets laws.

Professor Turnell has been detained by the military for almost two months.

“Australia continues to seek his immediate release and official information about the reasons for his detention both in Myanmar and through (its) embassy in Australia,” said the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade on April 2.

“We call on the military regime to allow Professor Turnell to return to his family in Australia.”

Suu Kyi’s chief lawyer, Khin Maung Zaw, informed on April 1 that he only learned of the new charges two days ago.

A conviction under the law can carry a prison sentence of up to 14 years.

Myanmar has been rocked by protests since the army overthrew Suu Kyi’s elected government on Feb. 1 citing unsubstantiated claims of fraud in a November election that her party swept.

Suu Kyi — a 75-year-old who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 for her efforts to bring democracy to Myanmar — and other members of her National League for Democracy, including Prof Turnell, have been detained since the coup.

The junta has previously accused her of several minor offenses, including illegally importing six handheld radios and breaching coronavirus protocols.

Her lawyers have described the charges as trumped-up.

At least 538 civilians have been killed in protests against the coup, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners activist group.

Two more Australians have been detained in Myanmar after trying to leave the country in March.

Business consultants Matthew O’Kane and Christa Avery are believed to be under house arrest.

O’Kane and Avery operate a business consultancy AOK, which has been working in Southeast Asia for over two decades and on the ground in Myanmar for seven years.

Western countries have condemned the bloodshed and Australia has suspended military co-operation with Myanmar and redirected aid to non-government organizations in response.

Myanmar’s military commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing is in control of the country since the coup.

Hlaing has a long history of wielding political influence and strengthening the grasp of the Tatmadaw – Myanmar’s military – on the country’s political structure even as the South Asian nation moved towards democracy.

(Edited by Vaibhav Vishwanath Pawar and Ritaban Misra.)