Australian Adviser Detained by Myanmar Junta at Risk of COVID-19

By The Irrawaddy 19 July 2021

The family of detained Australian economic adviser Sean Turnell has called again for his immediate release by the Myanmar military regime, saying that “his health is at tremendous risk” with coronavirus surging in the country’s prisons.

Turnell, a key adviser to ousted State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, has been detained at Yangon’s Insein Prison for over five months.

“The Delta variant has reached Insein [prison] and my husband has experienced cold and flu symptoms for a few weeks,” Turnell’s wife Ha Vu wrote on Facebook on Sunday.

Insein Prison is one of three jails where the junta has imposed a lockdown after COVID-19 outbreaks. Senior National League for Democracy (NLD) leaders U Nyan Win and U Han Tha Myint recently caught coronavirus while detained in Insein, but the number of infected detainees remains unknown.

Moreover, Ha Vu said that Turnell was desperate to see his father who has recently been diagnosed with cancer.

“He [Turnell’s father] doesn’t have long to live…Sean knows this…and he is devastated. He is very anxious for whatever the misunderstanding might be to be resolved quickly,” she said.

“Our family urges the authorities to let Sean Turnell return home to Australia as soon as possible. So that Sean can be with his father for the rest of his father’s life. It is the right thing to do, you know that,” she added.

She pleaded with the regime to release Turnell saying “please act on humane grounds, compassionate grounds and, more importantly, on the ordinary grounds of a son to his father, a husband to his wife and a beloved relative to his family”.

Turnell has served as one of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s top economic policy advisers for several years. He is also director of research at the Myanmar Development Institute, a leading economic think‐tank focused on building government capacity.

He was arrested days after the military seized power in a Feb. 1 coup, after claiming that the 2020 general election was marred by voter fraud. The NLD won a landslide victory in that election, which outside observers judged to be free and fair.

In March, junta spokesman Major General Zaw Min Tun said Turnell was being investigated and faced two possible charges by the junta over allegations that he tried to flee Myanmar after the military takeover with secret financial information. The offenses carry imprisonment terms of five and seven years respectively.

His family and the Australian government have repeatedly called for Turnell’s release. The junta said that they have been allowed to speak with Turnell.

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