South Asia and Beyond

Freed Australian Economist Turnell Says Myanmar Ruled By ‘Fools’

 Freed Australian Economist Turnell Says Myanmar Ruled By ‘Fools’

Sean Turnell (right) and his wife Ha Vu after his arrival in Australia. (Photo: Ha Vu/Facebook)

Newly released Australian economist Sean Turnell has said it was a tragedy for Myanmar’s people to be ruled by the military junta, whom he called “knaves and fools”.

Turnell, who was released in the regime’s mass amnesty on Thursday along with four other foreigners, had been locked up since the coup in February last year, accused by the junta of possessing state secrets.

He was an economic adviser to ousted and detained Myanmar leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD) government from 2015 until its ouster on February 1, 2021.

Upon his arrival in Australia, the economist said in a thank you message on Facebook that despite his joy at being reunited with his family, he was acutely aware that “the 53 million people in Myanmar continue to suffer under a regime that is about as unrepresentative of them as is possible to imagine.”

“It is a tragic and terrible thing that the nicest people I have encountered anywhere are ruled over by such knaves and fools. But more on such things later,” he wrote.

After his arrest, the regime claimed to have found “state secret” information in his computer and charged him under the Official Secrets Act. He pleaded not guilty but a regime court in Naypyitaw sentenced him to three years’ imprisonment in September and then transferred him to Yangon’s Insein Prison, where he remained until his release.

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Since the coup, the military junta has killed more than 2,500 people for rejecting military rule in Myanmar. Nearly two years on, the junta has been prevented from taking full control of the country by a popular armed resistance movement. In response, the military has been conducting deadly air strikes in anti-regime strongholds nearly every day.

Turnell was deported to Australia right after his release. He was asked by an official before leaving Myanmar if he now “hated” the country. “Sean said: I never hate Myanmar, I love the people of Myanmar and it’s always like that,” his wife Ha Vu posted on Facebook, announcing her husband’s arrival.

In his message, the economist thanked everyone who helped bring him home—from the Australian government to family members to friends to Sydney’s Macquarie University, where he is a faculty member.

He also thanked the media for their support, adding, “You’ll be hearing and seeing all too much of me I am sure.” And then, he said: “Finally the beard. This very day it’s going!!!”

 (By arrangement with ‘The Irrawaddy’)