YANGON: Sean Turnell, an Australian economic adviser to Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi, said in message to Reuters on Saturday (Feb 6) that he was being detained, the first known arrest of a foreign national since the Feb 1 military coup that overthrew the government.
“I guess you will soon hear of it, but I am being detained,” Turnell said. “Being charged with something, but not sure what. I am fine and strong, and not guilty of anything,” he said, with a smile emoji.
It was not subsequently possible to contact him.
Myanmar army generals, who seized power alleging fraud in a Nov 8 election that Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) won in a landslide, shut down the Internet on Saturday as thousands took to the streets of Yangon to denounce this week’s coup.
Australia’s foreign ministry said in a statement late on Saturday that it was “deeply concerned about reports of Australian and other foreign nationals being detained arbitrarily in Myanmar”.
The ministry did not name Turnell or provide further details on other foreign nationals being detained. It said it had particular concerns about an Australian who was detained at a police station.
“The Australian Embassy in Yangon continues to contact Australians in Myanmar to ascertain their safety, to the extent that communications allow,” the ministry said.
Turnell is a professor of economics at Macquarie University in Sydney and has been advising Aung San Suu Kyi on economic policy for several years.
Macquarie University said it was aware of reports of Turnell’s arrest, adding it fully supported “both his work in Myanmar and the efforts of the Australian Government to secure his swift release”.
A senior NLD member, who asked not to be named, said Turnell had earlier ceased his work advising Aung San Suu Kyi on the country’s economy.
On Saturday, several thousand protesters gathered in Australia’s second-largest city of Melbourne denouncing the coup and demanding the release of Aung San Suu Kyi.
Television and social media footage showed people wearing the red colour of the NLD, carrying portraits of Aung San Suu Kyi and singing We Won’t Be Satisfied Until the End of the World, the Burmese language anthem from the country’s 1988 pro-democracy uprising, brutally put down by the military government.