Myanmar court jails Australian economist Suu Kyi for 3 years – source

(Reuters) – A court in military-ruled Myanmar on Thursday sentenced ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her former Australian economic advisor Sean Tornell to three years in prison for violating the Secrets Act, a source familiar with the matter said.

Tornell was also found guilty of violating immigration law, and was sentenced to serve another three-year prison sentence at the same time, according to a second source and media outlets. A former British envoy, an American journalist and a Japanese filmmaker also faced charges under the same law.

Suu Kyi and Turnell both pleaded not guilty to the charges, which carry a maximum penalty of 14 years.

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“Three years each with hard labor,” said the source, who asked not to be identified due to the sensitivity of the issue.

Suu Kyi, Turnell, and several members of her economic team are among the thousands who have been arrested since the military toppled her elected government in a coup early last year, including politicians, lawmakers, bureaucrats, students and journalists.

The Nobel Prize winner Suki has been sentenced to at least 23 years in prison in separate cases mostly related to corruption charges. She denies all the accusations against her.

Military opponents say the charges against Suu Kyi are aimed at preventing her from engaging in politics again and challenging the military’s grip on power.

A spokesman for the military council did not respond to calls seeking comment on Thursday. The junta insists Myanmar’s courts are independent and that detainees are subject to due process.

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Myanmar State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi attends the joint press conference of the Japan-Mekong Summit Meeting at the Akasaka Palace Guesthouse in Tokyo, Japan, October 9, 2018. Frank Robichon/Paul via Reuters

Tornell, who is also a professor of economics at Macquarie University in Australia, has been detained for a few days after the coup.

His wife, Ha Fu, who is based in Australia, said she and her family were “sad” over the ruling and demanded he be deported.

“Chon has been one of Myanmar’s biggest supporters for more than 20 years and has worked tirelessly to boost Myanmar’s economy. Please consider contributions… and deport him now,” she said in a Facebook post.

Australia called for Turnell’s release.

“The Australian government has consistently rejected the charges against Professor Tornell. (It) rejects today’s court ruling…and calls for his immediate release,” Foreign Minister Penny Wong said in a statement.

Wong said Australian consular officials tasked with helping Tornell have been denied access to court.

The verdict was handed down on Thursday in a closed court in the capital, Naypyitaw. What crime the defendants committed under the Official Secrets Act remains unclear, though a source previously said Turnell’s crime “related to his claim to have government documents.”

An analyst with the International Crisis Group, Richard Horsey, described the proceedings as a “show trial”.

“For Shawn, the hope must now be that – after being held captive for nearly 20 months – he will soon be released from this horrific ordeal and reunited with his family,” he said.

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Reporting by Reuters staff. writing by Kanupriya Kapoor; Editing by Ed Davis, Robert Percell and Kim Coogill

Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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