Myanmar's deposed leader of Aung San Suu Kyi along with Australian economics professor Sean Turnell were sentenced Thursday to three years in prison by a junta court. FilePhoto by Xiao Long/UPI | License Photo
Sept. 29 (UPI) -- A Myanmar court on Thursday sentenced the country's jailed civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her economic advisor, Australian economist Sean Turnell, to three years behind bars on espionage charges.
The pair were sentenced along with three other ousted government officials behind closed doors by a special court inside the Naypyitaw Detention Center, the independent Myanmar Now reported.
The former government officials were charged with violating the Southeast Asian nation's 100-year-old Official Secret Act and had faced a maximum sentence of 14 years.
The sentencing comes a month and a half after Suu Kyi was sentenced to an additional six years in prison on corruption charges. In total, she's been sentenced to more than 20 years' imprisonment since being arrested in February 2021 when the military seized the country in a coup.
The Australian government confirmed the sentencing of Turnell in a statement while calling for his immediate release.
Minister for Foreign Affairs Penny Wong said that Australian consular officials in Myanmar "made every effort to attend the verdict but were denied access to the court."
"The Australian Government has consistently rejected the charges against Professor Turnell during the more than 19 months he had been unjustly detained by the Myanmar military regime," she said. "We will continue to take every opportunity to advocate strongly for Professor Turnell until he has returned to his family in Australia."
Turnell, a professor of economics at Macquarie University in Sydney, was arrested days after the Myanmar military known as the Tatmadaw deposed the government of Suu Kyi on widely discredited allegations of election fraud and took the helm of the country on Feb. 1, 2021.
Elaine Pearson, Asia director for Human Rights Watch, said the sentencing of Suu Kyi and Turnell shows that the junta "has no qualms about their international pariah status."
"Concerned governments should take this as a clear signal that they need to take concerted action against the junta if they are going to turn the human rights situation around in Myanmar," she said.
Pearson added that the sentencing of Turnell "is a cruel injustice" and that "[i]t's critical that Australia take all necessary steps to pressure Myanmar's junta to release him."
Mark Farmaner, director of human rights organization Burma Campaign UK, described the sentencing of Turnell as "personal.
"This isn't hostage diplomacy," he said via Twitter. "Sean was a loyal and close ally of Aung San Suu Kyi, working on economic reforms, which impacted the economic interests of the military, and they hate him for it.
"Australia should be sanctioning the economic interests of the military."
Since coup, more than 15,600 people have been arrested by junta forces in Myanmar, according to statistics from the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.