SYDNEY – Australia is once again facing new sanctions against the military government in Myanmar to free an academic in Sydney. Sean Turnell, an economic adviser to Southeast Asian country ousted de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi, remains in jail after being arrested earlier this year.
Colleagues and associates regard Australian academic Sean Turnell as a devoted friend to the people of Myanmar.
He grew up in working-class Macquarie Fields, a suburb of Sydney. His first job was at the age of 19 at the Reserve Bank of Australia. He said his “great passion was money and banking.” He later became an academic at Macquarie University, specializing in research on the Myanmar economy.
He is a professor of economics and the highly regarded author of Fiery Dragons, a history of the financial sector in Myanmar. He also advised the US Congress on the Southeast Asian country.
Turnell has been an advisor to various international agencies. His expertise and dedication attract the attention of Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of Myanmar’s National League for Democracy party. Turnell was a longtime economic aid from Suu Kyi. Both were arrested following the February military takeover in Myanmar. They are reportedly charged with violating the country’s official secret law.
Earlier this year, hundreds of academics signed a petition in which he was released, describing Turnell as the ‘most beautiful person you will ever meet’. His wife, Ha Vu, is also an academic at Macquarie University. She said she was “upset” about his detention. His family said he “fell in love” with Myanmar.
The military action against the pro-democracy movement allegedly killed more than 800 people. Several thousand people were arrested.
Australia have been criticized for not doing enough to secure Turnell’s release.
The Australian Council for International Development, an umbrella organization for international aid agencies, said that although the United States, Britain, Canada and the European Union had imposed sanctions on senior military officials in Myanmar since February, Canberra had not yet done so.
Tim Harcourt, a friend of Turnell’s and an economist at the University of Technology in Sydney, believes Turnell is being treated well in prison.
‘I understand that Sean was allowed to talk to his wife and that he’s pretty healthy and copes with all the guards and things. But the legal situation is obviously not really good, “Harcourt said.
No comment was made by Australian Foreign Secretary Marise Payne. She had earlier called for Turnell to be released, describing him as a “highly regarded member of the academic community in Australia.”
Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, was ruled by a repressive military government from 1962 to 2011.
A government effectively led by Suu Kyi came to power after the 2015 election.
Myanmar has a population of about 57 million people. It borders the Andaman Sea and the Bay of Bengal, between Thailand and Bangladesh.