Aung San Suu Kyi and Australian adviser sentenced to three years in prison after secret trial | Myanmar

Aung San Suu Kyi and Australian academic Sean Turnell, who was her adviser, were reportedly sentenced to three years in prison after a closed trial in Myanmar.

Turnell, an economist at Macquarie University in Sydney, was first arrested on February 6 last year, a few days after the military ousted Myanmar’s elected government and plunged the country into chaos.

Turnell was later charged with violating Myanmar’s Official Secrets Act, appearing in the past year alongside co-defendants, including the ousted leader and three of her former cabinet members.

A source, who declined to be named due to the sensitivity of the issue, told Reuters Turnell and the ousted leader had been given “no hard labor every three years.” Both had pleaded innocent.

Australian Foreign Secretary Penny Wong rejected the court’s ruling and called for Turnell’s immediate release.

“Prof Turnell was tried in a closed court – the Australian 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 take every opportunity to vigorously advocate for Prof Turnell until he returns to his family in Australia. We recognize the strong international support for him, including from our region.”

There is very limited information on legal proceedings involving political prisoners in Myanmar, where more than 15,600 people have been arrested since last year’s coup. Hearings are not open to journalists and lawyers have been silenced from talking to the media.

Aung San Suu Kyi had already been sentenced to 20 years in prison on several charges, and is still on trial.

The military had accused Turnell of possessing confidential documents when he was detained last year, according to the Irrawaddy news site. Turnell has reportedly denied the charges, saying the documents were not confidential but were economic recommendations he had made in his capacity as an adviser to the government of Aung San Suu Kyi.

The case against him has been widely condemned by human rights groups.

Elaine Pearson, Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said the sentences were a “cruel injustice.” “The junta’s willingness to impose sentences on Aung San Suu Kyi, along with Australian economist Sean Turnell and three of her ministers, shows that Myanmar’s military has no qualms about their international pariah status.

“Concerned governments should see this as a clear signal that they need to take concerted action against the junta if they want to change the human rights situation in the country,” she said. Turnell was denied proper access to legal advice, she added.

Turnell has been working on economic and banking issues in Myanmar since the early 2000s, with an emphasis on promoting reform and growth. He has served as Special Economic Adviser to Aung San Suu Kyi and Senior Economic Adviser to the Minister of Planning, Finance and Industry. He previously worked at the Reserve Bank of Australia.

Last month, when the UN special envoy to Myanmar, Noeleen Heyzer, met with the junta chief, Min Aung Hlaing, to call for a de-escalation of violence in the country, she also brought a request from the Australian government. about calling for Turnell’s release.

The Junta-controlled media later published what they believed to be a report of their meeting, in which Min Aung Hlaing said: “With regard to Mr Sean Turnell’s case, if the Australian government were to take positive steps, we would not need to take harsh measures. to take. . In the case of Mr Sean Turnell, the evidence shows that severe penalties can be imposed.”

According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, which tracks arrests and murders, at least 15,683 people have been arrested since the military came to power on Feb. 1, 2021, and 12,540 are still in prison.

Other foreign nationals detained include former British Ambassador to Myanmar Vicky Bowman and Toru Kubota, a Japanese filmmaker.

Separately, Amnesty International launched a report Thursday arguing that Facebook’s algorithms “contributed significantly” to the atrocities committed by the military against Myanmar’s Rohingya minority when Aung San Suu Kyi was in power.

“In the months and years leading up to the atrocities, Facebook’s algorithms fueled a storm of hatred against the Rohingya, which contributed to real violence,” said Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International’s secretary general.

“While Myanmar’s military committed crimes against humanity against the Rohingya, Meta took advantage of the hate echo chamber created by his hateful algorithms.”

Amnesty’s reassessment of Facebook’s role in the genocide is based on the cache of documents released in 2021 by whistleblower Frances Haugen, which “enable a renewed understanding of how [Facebook’s] content shaping algorithms have submitted the mass violence,” the report said.

In a statement, Meta’s Rafael Frankel said: “Our security and integrity work in Myanmar continues to be based on feedback from local civil society organizations and international institutions, including the UN Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar; the human rights impact assessment we commissioned in 2018; as well as our ongoing human rights risk management.”

Additional reporting by Alex Hern

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