Myanmar’s military junta frees top Australian aide to Aung San Suu Kyi and ex-British envoy in release of 700 prisoners: ‘Remarkable’
- Military junta has set free imprisoned foreigners to mark National Victory Day
- Sean Turnell, Australian advisor of jailed leader Aung San Suu Kyi, released
- Former British ambassador Vicky Burrows also among 700 prisoners freed
- Their reported release has been described as ‘remarkable’ by analysts
A former British diplomat and a top Australian aide to deposed Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi have reportedly been freed and deported by their military junta captors.
Australian-born Professor Sean Turnell, 58, was working as an economics adviser to Myanmar’s civilian leader when he was detained shortly after the coup in February last year.
In September, he and Suu Kyi were convicted of breaching the official secrets act and jailed for three years each by a closed junta court.
British envoy Vicky Bowman, 56, ambassador from 2002 to 2006, was detained with her husband in August for failing to declare she was living at an address different from the one listed on her foreigner’s registration certificate.
Professor Sean Turnell (pictured right with his wife, Deakin University lecturer Ha Vu) was working as an economics adviser to Myanmar’s civilian leader Suu Kyi when he was detained shortly after the coup in February last year
They were later jailed for one year. Her husband, prominent Myanmar artist Htein Lin, will also be freed, the official said.
Government spokesman Major General Zaw Min Tun told the Voice of Myanmar and Yangon Media Group on Thursday that both had been released and deported, along with Japanese filmmaker Toru Kubota and an unidentified American.
Myanmar’s state-run MRTV later confirmed the reports.
Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles welcomed the reports and said: ‘What we have heard today is very much good news.
‘We are focused on Mr Turnell’s welfare. We do welcome the news.’
His friend, economist Tim Harcourt, said Prof Turnell dedicated himself to helping improve the lives of people in Myanmar, but got caught up in the coup.
‘His heart was in the right place. He was trying to improve the lives of ordinary people in Myanmar,’ he told Sky News.
‘Thank goodness he’s been released now.
‘The priority for Sean is to get back and be with his wife. Let’s hope he can get home and recover.’
Foreign Minister Penny Wong said Australia welcomed the reports.
‘Professor Turnell continues to be our first priority … as such, we will not be commenting further at this stage,’ she wrote on Twitter.
Independent federal MP and former ABC foreign correspondent Zoe Daniel said she had received corroborated information about the release.
‘Holding breath with relief and hope for his health and well-being,’ she tweeted.
Ms Daniel has been a consistent advocate for Prof Turnell’s release.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese most recently raised the case with his Vietnamese counterpart Pham Minh Chinh on the sidelines of the ASEAN summit on Saturday.
‘I do want to thank Vietnam for your advocacy for Professor Sean Turnell, who has been detained in Myanmar,’ he said at the time.
Independent analyst David Mathieson added: ‘Professor Turnell’s release is remarkable news after being held hostage by the regime, and his family and friends will be delighted.’
But he said the junta ‘shows no sign of reform and a mass amnesty doesn’t absolve them of atrocities committed since the coup.’
British envoy Vicky Bowman (pictured), ambassador from 2002 to 2006, was detained with her husband in August for failing to declare she was living at a different address
The pardons are part of a release of 700 prisoners by the military junta to celebrate Myanmar’s National Victory Day, a senior officer told AFP.
Japanese journalist Toru Kubota, 26, was also freed under the amnesty after he was detained in July near an anti-government rally in Yangon along with two Myanmar citizens and jailed for 10 years.
Australia’s department of foreign affairs and trade has refused to comment on the reports but sources in the Japanese embassy in Myanmar confirmed they had been informed of Mr Kubota’s release.
Kubota is the fifth foreign journalist to be detained in Myanmar, after US citizens Nathan Maung and Danny Fenster, Robert Bociaga of Poland and Yuki Kitazumi of Japan – all of whom were later freed and deported.
As of March this year, 48 journalists remain in custody across the country, according to the monitoring group Reporting ASEAN.
Families gathered outside Insein prison in Yangon ahead of the expected announcement, an AFP reporter said.
The south-east Asian country has been in turmoil since the military’s coup overthrew Aung San Suu Kyi (pictured) last year and a bloody crackdown on dissent that has seen thousands jailed
Three former ministers from Suu Kyi’s ousted government and detained US-Myanmar citizen Kyaw Htay Oo would also be released, the junta official said.
The south-east Asian country has been in turmoil since the military’s coup last year and a bloody crackdown on dissent that has seen thousands jailed.
The military’s crackdown on dissent since it ousted Suu Kyi’s government has left more than 2,300 civilians dead, according to a local monitoring group.
The junta blames anti-coup fighters for the deaths of almost 3,900 civilians.
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