BANGKOK (AP) — A court in Myanmar ruled Thursday that it will not allow a Burmese-English translator at the upcoming trial of Sean Turnell, an Australian economist who has been charged under the Official Secrets Act.
Turnell is to be tried with the country’s ousted leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, and three former Cabinet members charged in the same case.
Turnell had served as an adviser to Suu Kyi and was arrested with his co-defendants after her elected government was ousted by the army in February.
Violating the secrets law carries a maximum penalty of 14 years in prison. The colonial-era statute criminalizes the possession, collection, recording, publishing, or sharing of state information that is “directly or indirectly, useful to an enemy.”
The ruling forbidding a translator was issued at a pre-trial hearing at a special court in the capital, Naypyitaw, said Ye Lin Aung, Turnell’s lawyer. All five defendants were present for the hearing, which was closed to the public and media.
He said the prosecution had asked that no translator be allowed and the judge agreed, citing security reasons.
The exact details of Turnell’s alleged offense and those of the others have not been made public, though Myanmar state television, citing government statements, has said the Australian academic had access to “secret state financial information” and had tried to flee the country.
“It is difficult for us without an interpreter for him (Turnell) at the court,” said Ye Lin Aung. “I am going to discuss it with officials from the Australian Embassy.”
He added that Turnell, who is confined at a prison in Naypyitaw, appeared to be in good health and requested that he be sent some snacks and other articles.
The case is one of several faced by Suu Kyi and is widely seen as an effort to discredit her to prevent her return to politics.