Jailed Australian Sean Turnell has been seen in photographs for the first time since his arrest in Myanmar following the military coup six months ago.
- Myanmar recorded 4,980 new coronavirus cases and 365 deaths in the past 24 hours
- Sean Turnell is in Yangon’s Insein Prison, which is experiencing an outbreak
- Australia says it considers his detention to be arbitrary
Professor Turnell was a long-time adviser to Myanmar’s civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who was overthrown by the military earlier this year.
The economist was arrested five days after the coup and was later accused of breaching the country’s official state secrets acts — an allegation his supporters say is absurd.
Two photographs published in the country’s state-run media appear to show Professor Turnell, 57, inside Yangon’s Insein Prison having his heartbeat checked and then receiving a COVID-19 vaccination.
Last week, his Sydney-based wife Ha Vu posted two pleas on Facebook for Myanmar’s military leaders to release her husband.
She said she was “worried sick” about him because during their last phone call he told her he was suffering cold and flu symptoms inside the jail, which is in the midst of a COVID-19 outbreak.
She also said Professor Turnell had pre-existing medical conditions and was desperate to come home to be with his terminally ill father in Australia.
Family scans photos for clues
Close family friend Tim Harcourt said the family had seen the new photographs and were “relieved”.
“A lot of them hadn’t seen a photo of Sean for six months, so that was good,” Professor Harcourt told the ABC.
“It’s good to see him vaccinated at a time when it’s very hard to get a vaccine, even here in Australia, so it’s good to see Sean’s being looked after from that point of view, especially when he had some cold and flu symptoms.
Professor Harcourt said Professor Turnell’s wife and sister noted that he looked tanned, and they were reassured by that.
“It’s hard to tell from photos, but the fact he had a good tan showed that he has had some outdoor life and not locked up in a cell 24/7,” he said.
Myanmar in the grip of virus outbreak
Myanmar has been hit with a new wave of coronavirus infections and a soaring number of deaths.
In the past 24 hours there were 4,980 new cases and 365 deaths.
Many Burmese people fear the numbers are far greater because there is only limited testing available.
Parts of the health system have already collapsed, and human rights groups are warning the country is on the edge of a humanitarian catastrophe.
There are shortages of oxygen and doctors have accused the military junta of hoarding supplies for military families.
Lawyers for inmates at the Insein prison, where Professor Turnell is being held, told Radio Free Asia that 48 prisoners had been infected with the disease and alleged they were being denied effective medical treatment.
A politician and adviser to Ms Suu Kyi, Nyan Win, died after becoming infected with COVID-19 in the same facility.
The Australian government considers Professor Turnell’s detention to be “arbitrary” and has repeatedly called for him to be released.
Australia’s ambassador to Myanmar and consular officials have been able to speak to him on at least five occasions over the phone and have also helped arrange phone calls between him and his family.