Myanmar military junta using detained Australian Sean Turnell as a ‘chess piece’, Human Rights Watch says

The announcement that Myanmar’s military junta is proceeding with a trial against detained Australian economist and professor Sean Turnell has been condemned by the Australian government and Human Rights Watch.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said the federal government continues to press for Mr Turnell’s release.

“Sean Turnell should be released,” he told reporters in Sydney on Saturday.


“That is the [Australian] government’s position. We will continue to make strong representation on that basis.”
Human Rights Watch (HRW) said it is concerned by actions from Myanmar’s military leaders that they are advancing their case against Mr Turnell, who faces a possible prison term of 14 years under charges of breaching the country’s official secrets law.
A Myanmar court ruled this week that there was against Mr Turnell, Ms Suu Kyi and three other defendants for a trial to proceed in Myanmar’s capital of Naypyidaw.
HRW Asia researcher Manny Maung told SBS News that the charges against Mr Turnell, who was arrested in Myanmar shortly after the country’s military coup last year, are baseless.
“If there was actually a legitimate case against Sean Turnell, the charges would have been brought against him some time ago,” Ms Maung said.

“As it stands, the military junta is just using Sean as a chess piece.

“In less than a week where the junta has vowed to uphold the farcical convictions of the death penalty against political dissidents, the proceeding trial against Sean just cements what a complete sham the junta’s entire judicial system is.
“We need to ensure that none of these cases proceed and that Sean gets home to his family safe and well.”
Mr Turnell was the economic adviser of former Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi, but was arrested, along with Ms Suu Kyi, when the military overthrew the government in February 2021.
On Friday, Foreign Affairs Minister Penny Wong affirmed the Australian government’s support for Mr Turnell.
“The Australian Government rejects this week’s court ruling in Myanmar against Australian Professor Sean Turnell.

“He remains imprisoned in Myanmar, and we continue to call for his immediate release.


“Professor Turnell has worked for Myanmar’s economic development for many years and is internationally respected for this record.
“We will continue to advocate for Professor Turnell’s interests and well-being and will not stop until he is safely back with his family.”
Mr Turnell’s wife Ha Vu has consistently appealed to the military to release her husband, last year writing a letter to General Min Aung Hlaing’s wife, Daw Kyu Kyu Hla.
“From one wife to another wife. I plead you to speak to your husband to let my husband return home to my family in Australia,” Ms Vu wrote in February last year.
“Sean is a sweet family man, an internationally respected academic, and a true friend to Myanmar.

“Sean was inspired by the people of Myanmar, the kindest and most hard-working people he knew. Thus, he dedicated his economic expertise to help bring investment and job opportunities to your country – to help integrate with other economies in the region and the world, to help Myanmar grow faster and stronger.”


Mr Turnell has been detained for over 16 months, in a country where peaceful protests have been answered by deadly military force, including unarmed civilians being fatally shot by military officials.
Merely two months after the coup began, more than 700 civilians had been killed by security forces, according to human rights group Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma).

The news of Mr Turnell’s trial comes one day after an employee of the World Health Organisation (WHO) was fatally shot in eastern Myanmar as part of a string of recent targeted killings, drawing condemnation from the UN.

The European Union also voiced its concerns around human rights abuses in the country, including the military junta’s vow to enforce death sentences for pro-democracy activists.

Human Rights Watch says 114 people have received the death sentence – including 41 people tried in absentia – since the military coup in February 2021.

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