Sept 29 (Reuters) – A court in military-ruled Myanmar on Thursday sentenced ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her former economic adviser, Australian Sean Turnell, to three years in prison for violating secrecy laws, a source familiar with the proceedings said.
Both pleaded not guilty to charges of breaching the Official Secrets Act, which carries a maximum sentence of 14 years.
“Every three years, there is no hard work,” said the source, who declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the issue.
Suu Kyi, Turnell and several members of her financial team are among thousands of people arrested since the military overthrew her elected government early last year, along with politicians, lawmakers, bureaucrats, students and journalists.
Turnell is also charged with an immigration violation, which carries up to five years in prison. The court is expected to rule on that case on Thursday, according to another source and media reports.
Nobel laureate Suu Kyi has already been sentenced to at least 23 years in prison in separate cases related to corruption charges.
She denies all the allegations against her.
Opponents of the military say the charges against Suu Kyi are aimed at preventing her from re-entering politics and challenging the military’s grip on power.
A spokesman for the junta did not respond to calls seeking comment on Thursday. The junta insists that Myanmar’s courts are independent and that those arrested are given due process.
Turnell, a professor of economics at Macquarie University in Australia, had been under house arrest for days after the coup.
His wife, Ha Wu, who is based in Australia, said she and her family were “heartbroken” by the verdict and called for his deportation.
“Sean has been one of Myanmar’s biggest supporters for over 20 years and has worked tirelessly to strengthen Myanmar’s economy. Please consider contributing … and deport him now,” she said in a Facebook post.
Australia demanded Turnell’s release.
“The Australian Government has consistently denied the allegations against Professor Turnell. (It) rejects today’s court decision … and calls for his immediate release,” Foreign Minister Penny Wong said in a statement.
Australian consular officials tasked with assisting Turnell were denied access to the court, Wong said.
The sentence was pronounced on Thursday in a closed court in the capital, Naypyitaw. The defendants’ exact offense under the Official Secrets Act remains unclear, although a source previously said Turnell’s offense was “related to allegations that he was in possession of government documents”.
Richard Horsey, an analyst at the International Crisis Group think tank, called the proceedings a “show trial”.
“There must now be hope for Shaun – who has already been in custody for nearly 20 months – that he will soon be freed from this horrific ordeal and reunited with his family,” he said.
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Reporting by Reuters staff; Written by Kanupriya Kapoor; Edited by Ed Davis, Robert Birsell
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