- Australian economist Sean Turnell was arrested in Myanmar in 2021.
- He had served as an adviser to the ousted Aung San Suu Kyi.
- Almost 6,000 other prisoners in Myanmar have also been released.
Myanmar’s military has released Australian economist Sean Turnell and three other foreigners from detention in an amnesty that covers 5,774 prisoners to mark the country’s National Victory Day.
Government spokesman General Zaw Min Tun told Voice of Myanmar and Yangon Media Group on Thursday that Professor Turnell, Japanese filmmaker Toru Kubota and former British diplomat Vicky Bowman, as well as American Kyaw Htay Oo, had been released and deported. .
Myanmar’s state-run MRTV later confirmed the reports on Thursday.
Who is Sean Turnell?
The 58-year-old, who holds an honorary position in the economics department at Sydney’s Macquarie University, worked in Myanmar as a consultant when he was arrested in 2021 after .
In September, he was sentenced to three years in prison for violating the country’s official secrets and immigration laws.
Sean Turnell was an adviser to deposed leader Aung San Suu Kyi (right) when he was arrested in 2021. Source: Facebook
His friend, Sydney economist Tim Harcourt, said Professor Turnell dedicated himself to helping improve the lives of people in Myanmar, but was caught up in the coup.
“His heart was in the right place. He was trying to improve the lives of ordinary people in Myanmar,” Professor Harcourt told Sky News.
“Thank God he has been released now.
“Sean’s priority is to get back and be with his wife. Let’s hope he can go home and recover.”
Who else was let go?
Mr Turnell, Mr Kubota, Ms Bowman and Kyaw Htay Oo, as well as 11 local Myanmar celebrities, were among a total of 5,774 prisoners being released, MRTV reported.
The imprisonment of foreign nationals had been a source of friction between Myanmar’s leaders and the prisoners’ home governments, who had campaigned for their release.
Mr. Kubota was arrested on July 30 by plainclothes police in Yangon after taking photos and videos of a small flash protest against the military. He was convicted last month by a prison court for incitement for participation in the protests and other charges and sentenced to 10 years in prison.
Mr. Kubota was the fifth foreign journalist to be arrested in Myanmar after the military seized power. US citizens Nathan Maung and Danny Fenster, who worked for local publications, and freelancers Robert Bociaga from Poland and Yuki Kitazumi from Japan were eventually deported before having to serve their full prison sentences.
Ms Bowman, 56, a former British ambassador to Myanmar, was arrested with her Myanmar national husband in Yangon in August. She was sentenced to one year in prison in September for failing to register her residence.
Kyaw Htay Oo, a US citizen, returned to Myanmar, his country of birth, in 2017, according to media reports. He was arrested in September 2021 on terrorism charges and had been in detention ever since.
How have Australian politicians responded?
Foreign Minister Penny Wong said Australia welcomed the reports.
“Professor Turnell remains our first priority … as such we will not be commenting further at this stage,” she wrote on Twitter.
Independent federal MP and former ABC foreign affairs correspondent Zoe Daniel said she had confirmed information about the publication.
“Hold your breath and hope for his health and well-being,” she tweeted.
Ms. Daniel has been a staunch advocate for Professor Turnell’s release.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese last raised the issue with his Vietnamese counterpart Pham Minh Chinh on the sidelines of the ASEAN summit on Saturday.
“I want to thank Vietnam for your advocacy for Professor Sean Turnell, who has been detained in Myanmar,” he said at the time.
Pro-democracy protesters march in Myanmar on December 4, 2021. Credit: SOPA images/Sipa USA
What is happening in Myanmar?
Myanmar has been in turmoil since the takeover, which led to nationwide protests that were suppressed by the military with lethal force, sparking an armed resistance that some UN experts now describe as a civil war.
According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), a rights watchdog, 16,232 people have been detained on political charges in Myanmar since the military overthrew the democratically elected government of Ms Suu Kyi last February.
Of those arrested, 13,015 were still in custody as of Wednesday, AAPP said. In addition, at least 2,465 civilians have been killed by security forces during the same period, the group says, although the figure is believed to be much higher.