The Australian government has called in Myanmar’s ambassador after Sean Turnell, an Australian economic adviser to Aung San Suu Kyi, was detained after a military coup.
Turnell, who is also an economics professor at Macquarie University in Sydney, told Reuters he was being detained, but has been uncontactable since Saturday.
“I guess you will soon hear of it, but I am being detained,” he said. “Being charged with something, but not sure what. I am fine and strong, and not guilty of anything,” he said in a message, with a smile emoji.
Turnell also told the BBC his charge “could be anything at all”.
“Everyone’s been very polite and all that, but obviously I’m not free to move or anything like that,” he said.
On Saturday evening, Australia’s foreign affairs minister, Marise Payne, said the government was “deeply concerned about reports of Australian and other foreign nationals being detained arbitrarily in Myanmar”.
Payne said the government was providing consular assistance to “a number of Australians in Myanmar”.
“In particular, we have serious concerns about an Australian who has been detained at a police station,” she said.
“We have called in the Myanmar ambassador and registered the Australian government’s deep concern about these events.”
Payne said Australia’s embassy in Yangon is continuing to check with Australians in Myanmar “to ascertain their safety, to the extent that communications allow”.
According to Turnell’s LinkedIn profile, he has been living and working in Naypyidaw – the city that replaced Yangon as Myanmar’s capital – since December 2017, where he has been “serving as special economic consultant to the state counsellor [Suu Kyi]”.
A spokesman for Macquarie University told the Guardian that Turnell “is a longstanding and distinguished member of Macquarie University’s economics department”.
“We are aware of his arrest and fully support both his work in Myanmar and the efforts of the Australian government to secure his swift release,” he said.
On Monday, when Myanmar’s military took power from Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party and declared a state of emergency, Turnell tweeted “gut wrenching and heartbreaking”.
“Internet comes and goes, but not the grief on the faces of my Myanmar friends ...Utter catastrophe for the economy of course, but that for later,” he said.
The following day, he tweeted a photo of himself with Suu Kyi and said he was “safe for now”.
“But heartbroken for what all this means for the people of Myanmar. The bravest, kindest people I know. They deserve so much better,” Turnell said.
The news of Turnell’s detention came as thousands of people took to the streets of Yangon on Saturday to denounce the coup and demand the release of Suu Kyi, in the first such demonstration since the generals seized power.
“Military dictator, fail, fail; democracy, win, win,” protesters chanted, calling for the military to free Nobel peace laureate Suu Kyi and other leaders of the NLD who have been detained since the coup.