Myanmar frees Australian academic Sean Turnell

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Australian academic Sean Turnell is heading home after almost two years’ detention in Myanmar, as one of almost 6,000 prisoners freed by the country’s dictators under a so-called amnesty.

Professor Turnell is reportedly one of four foreigners released by the military junta. The others are former British diplomat Vicky Bowman, Japanese film-maker Toru Kubota and US citizen Kyaw Htay, a Burmese-born botanist.

An economist on leave from Macquarie University, Professor Turnell was advising former Burmese leader Aung San Suu Kyi when he was seized during the February 2020 coup.

He has been detained since then. In September this year, he was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment, reportedly over immigration transgressions and for having “confidential” government documents in his possession.

His supporters said the “trumped up” verdict could be a blessing in disguise because of Myanmar’s history of deporting foreign political prisoners soon after sentencing them.

Anthony Albanese, Australia’s prime minister, said he had spoken to Professor Turnell during a layover in Bangkok. The economist, one of Mr Albanese’s constituents in the inner Sydney electorate of Grayndler, was in good spirits and jokingly apologised for not having voted in this year’s federal election.

The foreign minister, Penny Wong, said she had spoken to Professor Turnell on his way home. “I thank everyone who worked tirelessly for his release,” she tweeted.

The National Tertiary Education Union said it was a “truly great day” for the many people who had campaigned for the academic’s freedom. “I want to pay tribute to his amazing family, who have displayed inspirational resolve,” said national president Alison Barnes.

Social media was replete with expressions of relief and praise for Professor Turnell’s humour and stoicism. “Let’s hope he can get home to his wife Ha and be an armchair economist not an airport economist for a while!” tweeted close friend and fellow economist Tim Harcourt.

john.ross@timeshighereducation.com



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