Sean Turnell, a key economic adviser to ousted State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, appeared in court alongside three ousted Union ministers for the first time since their arrest in February.
The Australian economist appeared at the Dekkhinathiri District Court in the Myanmar capital Naypyitaw, along with three ousted Union ministers: former planning and finance ministers U Kyaw Win and U Soe Win and deputy planning and finance minister U Set Aung.
Along with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, Turnell and the three ministers are accused of violating section 3(1c) of the Official Secrets Act. The case was originally set to be heard in Yangon’s Eastern District Court, but in June the Union Supreme Court ordered it transferred to the Dekkhinathiri District Court in Naypyitaw.
On Thursday, Turnell, U Kyaw Win, U Soe Win and U Set Aung appeared at the court in full COVID-19 personal protection equipment, while Daw Aung San Suu Kyi appeared via video for the hearing.
“They all looked very tired and frail,” said U Khin Maung Zaw, the lawyer representing Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. U Soe Win is over 80 and U Kyaw Win over 70.
Sean Turnell has been charged with two cases under the Immigration Act. His lawyers filed their power of attorney for the second charge on Thursday.
The Australian served as one of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s top economic policy advisers for several years. He is also the director of research at the Myanmar Development Institute, a leading economic think tank focused on building government capacity.
In March, junta spokesperson Major General Zaw Min Tun said Turnell was being investigated and faced two possible charges over allegations that he tried to flee Myanmar after the February 1 coup with secret financial information. He faces potential prison terms of five and seven years respectively for the two offences.
Turnell’s family and the Australian government have repeatedly called for his immediate release.
At the hearing on Thursday, the lawyers representing the accused requested that the court allow an in-person meeting with their clients and also applied for an interpreter to translate, said U Khin Maung Zaw.
The lawyers requested the in-person meeting as Thursday was the first time they had seen their clients in person at the court.
The accused were arrested shortly after the military takeover that ousted the democratically-elected National League for Democracy (NLD) government. The junta has claimed that the NLD’s landslide victory in the 2020 general election was marred by voter fraud, despite outside observers judging the poll to have been free and fair.
After their arrest, Turnell and the three ousted Union ministers were held at Insein Prison in Yangon. They are now believed to have been moved to a jail in Naypyitaw.
The military regime has filed numerous charges against Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, former President U Win Myint, cabinet members and government officials. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has been charged in 11 cases including alleged possession of illegal walkie-talkies, violating COVID-19 restrictions, sedition and corruption.
Since June, the State Counselor has been supposed to be appearing weekly at a special court in Naypyitaw to answer five of the charges against her, but the trial was delayed for two months from mid-July due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The hearings resumed earlier this month.
On Wednesday, the junta filed an additional charge against Daw Aung San Suu Kyi for alleged corruption. The case was filed in Yangon’s Regional Court, but her legal defense team said that they have yet to be told the details of the case. They expect to know more about it soon.
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