Australian economist Sean Turnell detained by Myanmar’s military junta for almost two years returned home on Friday and has subsequently offered thanks to all those who have supported him during his ordeal.
Economist Sean Turnell, a former adviser to Myanmar’s deposed leader Aung San Suu Kyi, was arrested by the military shortly after they seized control of the country in February 2021.
He had been sentenced to three years’ imprisonment for breaching Myanmar’s Official Secrets Act – charges he denied – but was released on Thursday alongside almost 6,000 prisoners as part of an amnesty announced by the military.
Turnell offered a “profound thank you” to everybody who helped bring him home, in a message on his Facebook page.
“As you might have seen already, I am especially thankful to the Government and people of Australia who I knew, even in the darkest hours, always had my back,” he writes in his post.
“I am, of course, acutely aware that as I experience the joy of my reunion with my wife Ha and all my family, the 53 million people in Myanmar continue to suffer under a regime that is about as unrepresentative of them as is possible to imagine. It is a tragic and terrible thing that the nicest people I have encountered anywhere are ruled over by such knaves and fools. But more on such things later…
“Curtis Slover, an American friend and colleague who stayed in Myanmar at great personal risk to support me – sir, you represent the best of your great country. A life-debt is owed my dear “Cassian’.
“Macquarie University – this marvelous institution of scholars – thank you. The gang from James Meehan High School – likewise!
“My debts are so vast to so many of you that the fiscal state of the world is but a trifle. I’ll be contacting you, my dear creditors, ASAP – but thanks for your patience in the meantime. I shouldn’t do this since I know my addled brain is going to forget someone critical – but deepest love and respect from the outset to my dear dad, Peter Turnell (dad – your name is on every document in Insein Prison), my daughter Phuong Pham, my sister Lisa Brandt and her ‘boys’ (Michael, Timothy and Mitchell), my fantastic in-laws Nam and Thu, the incomparable Janelle Saffin, my oldest friend Glenn Worley, Professor Wylie Bradford (actually – the whole academic community in Aus and around the world pretty much – but especially Professor David Throsby and the posse he got together!), the eminence grise himself, Cuthbert (you know who you are!), Leanne Ussher, Maureen Aung-Thwin, Zali Win, Mathea Falco….Gosh, I better stop since I surely will forget someone and cause hurt. First do know harm and all that,” he writes.
He stressed that he was mentioning few Burmese names as he was “terrified” of identifying anybody and putting them in danger.
Turnell offered his thanks to the media for their support and patience, noting he will be in touch in due course.
And he quipped that the beard he had grown in captivity was going to be shaved off.
Earlier, Turnell’s wife Ha Vu, an economist at Australia’s Macquarie University, announced his arrival on social media.
“He is here,” she posted with a smiling photo of the pair taken after his plane landed in Melbourne.
Vu said that, as her husband left Myanmar, an official asked him if he now “hated” the country.
“Sean said: ‘I never hate Myanmar, I love the people of Myanmar and it’s always like that.”
In a separate statement released through Australia’s foreign ministry, Vu said she was elated.
“I’m overwhelmed by joy at the news my beloved husband Sean is coming home. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank all those who have strongly advocated for his release,” she said.
“After nearly 22 months apart, our priority right now is to spend time together as a family.”
Turnell appears in photos and video footage with a scruffy grey beard and had clearly lost weight.
Earlier, Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said Turnell was in “good spirits” when the pair spoke briefly on Thursday.
“He’s a remarkable man,” Albanese told reporters.
“And he was there doing his job as an economic policy adviser. He was doing his job, nothing more, nothing less.”
Reporting by Mizzima and AFP