Aussie detainee pleads not guilty

YANGON, Myanmar (AFP) — An Australian economist detained by Myanmar’s junta has pleaded not guilty to breaching the colonial-era official secrets act, a source close to the case said on Friday.

Sean Turnell was working as an adviser to Myanmar’s civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi when he was detained shortly after the coup that ousted her government in February last year.

On trial in a secretive junta court that journalists cannot access, he faces a maximum penalty of 14 years in prison if found guilty.

Turnell “testified in court yesterday… He pleaded not guilty,” the source, who added the economist was in good health, said.

Since seizing power, Myanmar’s military government has detained thousands of pro-democracy protesters, with many facing charges that rights groups have decried as politically motivated.

The exact details of Turnell’s alleged offense have not been made public, although state television has said he had access to “secret state financial information” and had tried to flee the country.

Australian diplomats have been lobbying Southeast Asian countries to assist with the case and Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has made a direct plea to the junta for Turnell’s release.

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