Sean Turnell: the quiet economics professor held in Myanmar ‘animal pen’ prison for 650 days

After five years as Aung San Suu Kyi’s economic adviser, Sean Turnell was jailed for almost two years following the 2021 Myanmar coup, and sent to some of the country’s most notorious prisons. In a new memoir, he reflects on the poems of loss and longing penned by past occupants of his cell. Maroosha Muzaffar reports

Monday 27 November 2023 10:45 GMT
<p>Sean Turnell in a television interview in Sydney earlier this month </p>

Sean Turnell in a television interview in Sydney earlier this month

“You do not know me, but a friend of mine who works at your hotel has just told me that since 4am this morning intelligence and police have taken over the hotel’s security cameras ... You need to leave as soon as you can.”

That was the message received in early February 2021 by Australian economist Sean Turnell, who was working at the time as one of Aung San Suu Kyi’s most senior advisers in Myanmar.

Five days earlier Suu Kyi and other senior figures in her democratically elected government had been detained by the military in a coup that has now installed a junta regime. Soon after that email from “a secret friend”, Turnell was himself arrested, and the mild-mannered academic went on to spend more than 600 days in some of Myanmar’s most notorious prisons.

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