Sean Turnell’s trial to proceed, rules Myanmar court

Bangkok: A court in Myanmar has ruled that prosecutors have presented sufficient evidence against ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi, Australian economist Sean Turnell and three other defendants to continue their trial on charges of violating the official secrets law.

Turnell served as an economics adviser to Suu Kyi, who was arrested when her elected government was ousted by the army on February 1, 2021.

Sean Turnell with Aung San Suu Kyi before the military coup.

The military’s takeover triggered peaceful nationwide protests that security forces quashed with lethal force, triggering armed resistance that some UN experts now characterise as civil war.

Turnell was arrested in Yangon, the largest city, a few days after the coup. He is being tried in the capital, Naypyidaw, with Suu Kyi and three former cabinet members charged in the same case.

Violating the official secrets law carries a maximum penalty of 14 years in prison. The colonial-era statute criminalises the possession, collection, recording, publishing or sharing of state information that is “directly or indirectly, useful to an enemy”.

Sean Turnell is vaccinated against COVID in prison in Myanmar in this image released by the military.Credit:Twitter/@RvlBurma2

The exact details of Turnell’s alleged offence and those of the others have not been made public, though state television, citing government statements, has said the Australian academic had access to “secret state financial information” and had tried to flee the country.

Turnell is also being prosecuted under the immigration law, which carries a punishment of six months to five years’ imprisonment. Immigration prosecutions are common for foreigners being held for other alleged offences.

A legal official who is familiar with Turnell’s case said he and his co-defendants were formally indicted on Thursday, allowing their secret trial to continue. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to release information.

Under Myanmar law, a judge can order an end to a trial after the prosecution has presented its case if it is found to not have merit. If the judge finds the prosecution case credible, the trial continues into a second phase in which the defence presents its case and a verdict is rendered.

In coming weeks, the court will hear the defence arguments, including a re-examination of the prosecution’s witnesses.

The legal official said Turnell, who is detained at a prison in Naypyidaw, appeared to be in good health.

Suu Kyi is currently being tried on several charges including corruption and election fraud. The cases against her, lodged at the behest of the military-installed government, are widely seen as an effort to discredit her to prevent her return to politics.

AP

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