POSSIBLE CANBERRA INVOLVEMENT:
Sean Turnell, an Australian economist, is accused of breaking a colonial-era law when he had access to secret financial information
An Australian economist detained by Burma’s junta has pleaded not guilty to breaching the colonial-era Official Secrets Act, a source familiar with the matter said yesterday.
Sean Turnell was working as an adviser to Myanmar civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi when he was arrested shortly after the coup that toppled his administration in February last year.
Tried in a secret junta court to which journalists do not have access, he faces a maximum sentence of 14 years in prison if convicted.
Turnell “testified in court yesterday…He pleaded not guilty,” the source said, adding that the economist was in good health.
Since taking power, Myanmar’s military government has detained thousands of pro-democracy protesters, many of whom face charges that rights groups have decried as politically motivated.
The exact details of Turnell’s alleged offense have not been made public, although state television said he had access to “secret state financial information” and had attempted to flee the country.
In June, his trial was transferred to a special court inside a prison in the capital, Naypyidaw.
Civil administration figures detained, including Aung San Suu Kyi and Turnell, had previously appeared in special weekly hearings in the military-built capital.
Aung San Suu Kyi – who faces a series of charges that could see her jailed for more than 150 years – also appeared in good health at Thursday’s hearing, the source said.
The journalists were barred from proceedings in the junta court and defense lawyers were slapped with a gag order barring them from speaking to the media.
Turnell was in the middle of a telephone interview with the BBC when he was arrested.
“I’ve just been detained at the moment, and possibly charged with something, I don’t know what it would be, could be anything of course,” Turnell told the broadcaster at the time.
Canberra has not joined other Western governments in sanctioning Myanmar, but Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong (黃英賢) said such a move remains “under review”.
Separately, Japanese lawmaker Hiromichi Watanabe met with junta leaders, state media reported, days after a Japanese documentary filmmaker was arrested while covering a protest in the country.
Watanabe of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party was in Myanmar from Sunday to yesterday, his office said.
He did not comment on the purpose of the trip.
Tokyo has called for the release of filmmaker Toru Kubota, 26, who entered Myanmar on a tourist visa and was arrested on July 30 during a protest in Yangon.
He is accused of breaking an immigration law and encouraging dissent against the ruling military.
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