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Australian economist pleads not guilty in Myanmar junta trial: source

#Australian #economist #pleads #guilty #Myanmar #junta #trial #source

An Australian economist arrested by Myanmar’s junta has pleaded not guilty to violating the colonial-era law on official secrecy rights, a source close to the case said on Friday.

Sean Turnell was working as an adviser to Myanmar’s civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi when he was arrested shortly after the coup that toppled her government in February last year.

He faces a maximum sentence of 14 years in prison if found guilty at a secret junta court to which journalists have no access.

Turnell “testified in court yesterday … He pleaded not guilty,” said the source, adding the economist is in good health.

Since taking power, Myanmar’s military government has arrested thousands of pro-democracy protesters, many of whom face charges rights groups say are politically motivated.

The exact details of Turnell’s alleged offense were not released, although state television said he had access to “secret government financial information” and was attempting to flee the country.

In June his trial was transferred to a special court in a prison complex in the capital, Naypyidaw.

Turnell and co-defendant Suu Kyi had previously appeared at weekly hearings before a special court in the sprawling, military-built capital.

Suu Kyi – who faces a range of charges that could jail her for more than 150 years – also appeared at Thursday’s hearing in good health, the source said.

Journalists have been barred from trials before the Junta Court, and defense attorneys have been gaunted, barring them from speaking to the media.

Turnell was in the middle of a telephone interview with the BBC when he was arrested after the coup.

“I’m in jail right now and maybe charged with something, I don’t know what that would be, of course it could be anything,” Turnell told the broadcaster at the time.

The Australian government has not joined other western governments in sanctioning Myanmar, but Foreign Secretary Penny Wong says such a move is “actively under consideration”.

Australian diplomats have lobbied Southeast Asian countries to support the case, and Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has asked the junta directly for Turnell’s release.

“Professor Turnell remains our first priority,” Wong told AFP in Phnom Penh last week.

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