Myanmar trial of Australian advisor to Suu Kyi still not set

BANGKOK (AP) — The case of an Australian economist and advisor to Myanmar’s ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi who like her was arrested when the military seized power in February remained in legal limbo Wednesday as a court considered where he should be tried.

Su Kyi, her advisor Sean Turnell and three former Cabinet ministers were charged in March under Myanmar’s official secrets law, which is punishable by up to 14 years in prison. Turnell has not appeared in public since he was detained on Feb. 6 and did not attend Wednesday’s court hearing.

The exact details of Turnell’s alleged offense and those of the others charged have not been made public, though Myanmar state television, citing government statements, has said the Australian academic had access to “secret state financial information” and had tried to flee the country.

Turnell, the author of “Fiery Dragons: Banks, Moneylenders and Microfinance in Burma,” was an advisor to Suu Kyi after her government came to power following an election in 2015 that followed years of military rule. The February coup toppled Suu Kyi’s government just as it was to begin a second term following a landslide election victory in November,

Suu Kyi is currently being tried in the capital, Naypyitaw, on five more minor charges, but the charge of breaching the secrets law was made in Yangon, the country’s biggest city. Prosecutors several weeks ago initiated the process of getting court approval to have the secrets trial be held in Naypyitaw, where Suu Kyi is being kept at a secret location.

One of Suu Kyi’s lawyers, Kyi Win, said that at Wednesday’s procedural hearing before the Supreme Court in Naypyitaw, prosecution and defense lawyers both presented arguments favoring the move. It is not clear when there might be a ruling on the motion.

Australia’s Foreign Minister Marise Payne on Sunday called for an “fair and open” trial.

“We do believe Professor Turnell is arbitrarily detained and we have been consistently seeking his release since he was detained some months ago now,” she said.

Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported last week that the vice chief of the Australian Defense Force, Vice Adm. David Johnston, spoke with the deputy commander of Myanmar’s military about Turnell’s case.

“Vice Admiral Johnston expressed Australia’s deep concern at the situation in Myanmar and reiterated Australia’s call for the immediate release of Professor Sean Turnell,” said a statement from the Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, according to ABC. “Vice Admiral Johnston underlined the very high priority that Australia attaches to Professor Turnell’s release, and made a range of requests regarding his circumstances.”

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