Australian government steps up calls on Myanmar’s junta to release detained academic Sean Turnell

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

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

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,” the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said on Friday.

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

Ms Suu Kyi’s chief lawyer, Khin Maung Zaw, told Reuters by telephone on Thursday that he only learned of 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 Ms Suu Kyi’s elected government on 1 February citing unsubstantiated claims of fraud in a November election that her party swept.

Ms 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 Professor Turnell, have been detained since the coup.

The junta has previously accused her of several minor offences 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.

Demonstrators shout slogans during a protest against the Myanmar military coup in Mandalay on 1 April.


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.

Mr O’Kane and Ms 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.

Protesters urge ‘guerrilla strikes’

Myanmar activists held candle-lit protests overnight and scrambled to find workarounds for a new internet shutdown on Friday. 

Anti-coup groups shared radio frequencies, offline internet resources and providers of text message news alerts to try to circumvent new curbs on the internet, which now limit Web access to fixed-line services only.

The military did not announce or explain its order to telecom firms to cut wireless broadband, which adds to a ban on mobile data through which a nationwide movement has mobilised on social media and spread images of the junta’s lethal suppression of mostly youth-led protests.

Late on Thursday, protesters spread a call for a “flower strike” at bus stops where demonstrators killed by security forces had departed on their last journeys.

“We will leave flowers at bus stops tomorrow … That’s what I want to tell you guys before the internet is down,” Khin Sadar, a protest leader, posted on Facebook.

“In the following days, there were street protests. Do as many guerrilla strikes as you can. Please join.”

It comes after protesters were in the streets in several urban centres day and night on Thursday, where some burned copies of the military-drafted 2008 constitution.

Media reported two people were killed, including an 18-year-old man, as police opened fire to quell gatherings.

Khit Thit Media reported shots were fired at a protest during the night, where 400 troops were present. The report could not immediately be verified.

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

Britain on Thursday sanctioned one of the military’s biggest conglomerates, following a similar move by several Western countries.

Britain’s Next became the latest high-street brand to suspend orders from Myanmar’s factories.

“The Myanmar military has sunk to a new low with the wanton killing of innocent people, including children,” British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said. The UK move was welcomed by his US counterpart Antony Blinken.

With additional reporting by Reuters

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