/ 18 November 2022

A long-awaited homecoming

Image source: AAP
Image source: AAP

Economist Sean Turnell has been released from detention in Myanmar and deported – he arrived in Bangkok overnight on his way home to Australia. He is said to be one of 6,000 prisoners to be released as a part of an amnesty granted on the country’s National Day, along with former British ambassador Vicky Bowman, Japanese filmmaker Toru Kubota and American botanist Kyaw Htay Oo. PM Anthony Albanese said the 58yo was “in very good spirits” but had lost weight and would need “space to recover”. Turnell’s many friends expressed relief at the development – Professor Tim Harcourt said “Sean’s heart was with the people of Myanmar to help lift them about of poverty… He should never have been imprisoned for doing his professional duty as an economist involved in development economics.”

The Aussie was a top adviser to Myanmar’s deposed leader Aung San Suu Kyi when the military seized power in February last year. He was detained within a week of the coup, and although he maintained he was “not guilty of anything”, he was accused by military leader Min Aung Hlaing of trying to flee the country with “secret state financial information”. Fast-forward to September this year, he was sentenced to 3 years in jail for breaching official state secrets acts. Our government has consistently said the treatment of the 58yo Sydneysider has been “unjust”. At the time, Turnell’s wife Ha Vu said his jailing – which could have seen him locked up until February 2024 – was “heartbreaking for me, our daughter, Sean’s 85yo father, and the rest of our family”. Wednesday was the couple’s wedding anniversary, and she posted a message to him on social media: “Every day passes, one day closer to have you back home.” And now that will happen sooner than expected.

Good question. Myanmar has plunged into civil war since the military coup and the resulting crackdown on civilian dissent. Some analysts say the scale of the violence there is second only to the war in Ukraine. More than 2,400 people have been killed by the military since the start of last year and opposition movements – many armed – have emerged across the country. The military has responded with lethal force, including last month’s air strikes on a concert where at least 50 civilians were killed. Southeast Asian countries have been leading the peace efforts, but those in charge aren’t following through on any undertakings. Reports say about 12,000 protestors, officials and political prisoners remain in detention, including Suu Kyi herself, despite yesterday’s prisoner amnesty.

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