Jailed Australia economist quarantined for COVID-19 in Myanmar

Sean Turnell, an Australian citizen who served as an economic advisor to deposed Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi and was given a three-year jail sentence this week, have been infected with COVID-19 in prison, sources familiar with their case told RFA.

Turnell, Aung San Suu Kyi, and three ministers from the ousted National League for Democracy (NLD) government were given three year sentences Thursday under the Myanmar Government Secrets Act.

Turnell, 58, and former Deputy Minister of Planning, Finance and Industry Set Aung were quarantined for COVID-19 infections their transfer Friday from Naypyidaw Prison in the capital to Yamethin prison, court sources told RFA.

The other two former ministers prosecuted Thursday, Myanmar Government Planning and Finance Minister Soe Win, and Minister of Planning and Finance Kyaw Win, were also transferred to Yamethin, in the central Mandalay region.

Turnell was also sentenced to a further three years under the Immigration Law but the two charges will be served concurrently.

Suu Kyi, who has now been sentenced to a total of 23 years in prison for 12 cases, is still being held in Naypyidaw Prison because there are still other pending cases.

The junta has yet to release a statement regarding the transfer of Turnell to Yamethin Prison and the circumstances of his COVID-19 infection.

The Australian government issued a statement Thursday saying that Turnell had been unjustly arrested and that Canberra has objected to the military court’s sentence against him and demanded his immediate release. The statement also said Australian diplomats were barred from attending the trial.

Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong told the Australian newspaper The Canberra Times that she will continue to do everything she can so that he can return to his family in Australia.

Turnell had worked as an economic advisor to Suu Kyi since 2017 under the NLD-led government that was ousted in last year’s military coup. He is the first foreigner close to the NLD to be detained since the Feb. 1, 2021 coup.

Turnell had worked at the Myanmar Development Institute of the Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, and is an honorary professor of that university. He had also worked at the Reserve Bank of Australia as an economics expert.

Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written by Paul Eckert.

How China and its allies pool resources to target overseas dissidents

Authoritarian regimes are increasingly making use of regional cooperation organizations like the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) to bolster each others’ regime security in the name of counter-terrorism, experts told a recent seminar.

In an Orion Policy Institute online seminar held days after Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leader Xi Jinping returned from a leadership summit of the regional Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), experts said authoritarian regimes are increasingly bolstering each other’s domestic security in the name of pursuing “terrorists”, “separatists” and “extremists.”

Edward Lemon, assistant professor of international affairs at Texas A&M University, said authoritarian regimes rarely act alone, often relying on bilateral cooperation with local governments and regional organizations like the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO).

“Authoritarian regional organizations are built around the codification of authoritarian norms,” Lemon told an online seminar run by the Institute on Sept. 28. “They bypass human rights, facilitate swift extraditions and bolster regime protections.”

“In some cases [they actually grant] extraterritorial powers to law enforcement to physically go into the jurisdiction of members of an international organization … and extradite or … render and take back members of the diaspora,” he said.

He said such groupings often form platforms for sharing information about overseas activists and run joint investigations into individuals who are seen as a threat to a regime.

“[This] privileges … regime security over any concerns over individual human rights or the countries’ obligations to international human rights law or norms,” Lemon said.

He said the top priority of the SCO is to combat “terrorism”, “extremism” and “separatism,” which are all terms derived from China’s national security framework.

Once an organization is listed as a terrorist organization by one of the member states, it will be labelled a terrorist organization by all member states, he said.

Members and other leaders attend the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, Sept. 16, 2022. Credit: Kremlin Pool Photo via AP
Members and other leaders attend the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, Sept. 16, 2022. Credit: Kremlin Pool Photo via AP

Criminalizing opponents

Mathieu Deflem, sociology professor at the University of South Carolina, said authoritarian regimes often use existing global structures to pursue activists overseas, particularly Interpol.

“Interpol is one of the instruments of that embeddedness, and a very practical and … effective instrument as well,” Deflem said. “It is nowadays well known that Interpol has been abused by authoritarian regimes.”

“They take advantage of international communications systems to track down political opponents and to target them as criminals, so we have the criminalization of political dissent,” he said.

“The members [and] the leadership of Interpol are not doing nearly enough to counter that, and to hold onto the principles of their own organization,” Deflem said.

He called on U.S. law enforcement agencies to put pressure on Interpol to set up an external review watchdog, rather than relying solely on current internal oversight mechanisms.

Meanwhile, digital technology is an important part of all forms of transnational repression, according to Marcus Michaelsen, a researcher at the Free University of Brussels.

Phishing and commercial spyware can effectively infiltrate dissidents’ phones and computers to collect information and spy on dissidents for repressive regimes, he said.

“Regimes perceive these external influences as a threat, and in response they try to control the activities of their populations abroad,” Marcus Michaelsen, independent researcher into transnational repression, told the seminar.

He said digital technologies are an essential component of all forms of transnational repression.

“The very same technologies that allow exiles and diasporas to stay involved in their home country’s affairs also help regimes to reach across borders.”

Dolkun Isa, president of the World Uyghur Congress, was subject to a Interpol Red Notice from China for almost 20 years before it was deleted in 2018. Credit: AFP
Dolkun Isa, president of the World Uyghur Congress, was subject to a Interpol Red Notice from China for almost 20 years before it was deleted in 2018. Credit: AFP

Open targets

Transnational activists rely heavily on social media to stay in touch with their home countries, and this makes them more vulnerable to being targeted by their home governments for monitoring, he added.

“In the more aggressive forms of targeted surveillance, regime agents try to gain access to the accounts and devices of activists, for their correspondence and confidential data,” Michaelsen said, adding that regime-backed hackers often use phishing messages to gain access to accounts and devices.

Sometimes, social engineering is also used, based on openly available social media information, to “lure targets” into clicking on compromised links, he said, citing invitations to seminars, interview requests as possible forms of phishing to deliver malware to users’ devices, sometimes using sophisticated spyware.

Michaelsen said major overseas social media platforms are sometimes infiltrated or subjected to political pressure to delete accounts and posts that are critical of the regimes.

“Another form of digital transnational repression is online harassment, smear campaigns and trolling,” Michelson said. “These regime agents will use false and distorted information, verbal threats and abuse against activists to intimidate them, to put them under pressure, or taint their reputation.”

Dana Moss, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Notre Dame, agreed, but said online monitoring can also lead to violent outcomes.

“Regimes’ attempts to control and coerce and punish their diasporas is a growing global threat,” she told the seminar, adding that the threat isn’t just a digital one.

“[Their] repertoire also includes assassinations, violent attacks. We’ve seen a lot of kidnappings, forced renditions and coerced return back home,” Moss said.

Loved ones back home are also used as leverage, she said.

“People might be threatened that something will happen to their families if they don’t return home for persecution or trial or detention,” Moss said.

“For women, these tend to be very sexualized and very scary.”

Smear campaigns

Moss said smear campaigns are often very effective if overseas activists are accused of “terrorism,” she said.

“This perks up the ears of security agencies in their host societies, and often puts them under suspicion for doing something wrong when they haven’t done,” she said.

The CCP’s law enforcement agencies routinely track, harass, threaten and repatriate people who flee the country, many of them Turkic-speaking Uyghurs, under its SkyNet surveillance program that reaches far beyond China’s borders, using a variety of means to have them forcibly repatriated, according to the rights group Safeguard Defenders.

The number of Chinese nationals seeking political asylum overseas has skyrocketed under Xi Jinping, whose administration has set up a coordinated international operation called “Operation Foxhunt” to force Chinese nationals to return home.

Figures released by the United Nations’ refugee agency UNHCR showed that while around 12,000 Chinese nationals sought asylum overseas in 2012, the year that Xi took office as CCP general secretary, that number had risen to nearly 120,000 by 2021.

Washington-based non profit Freedom House called on governments in a February 2022 report to start systematically recording cases of transnational repression, based on an internationally agreed definition of the term, then ensure that law enforcement officials, personnel at key agencies, and those working with refugees and asylum seekers are trained to recognize the targeting of exiles and diasporas.

Governments should also start screening applicants for diplomatic visas for a history of engaging in transnational repression and expel diplomats who are known to be involved in these practices.

They should also use their influence to bolster respect for the asylum system and stop processing applications in third countries, the report said, calling for an international response to the problem.

Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

6.0-Magnitude Quake Jolted Off Western Indonesia, No Casualty Reported

JAKARTA, Oct 1 (NNN-ANTARA) – An earthquake with a magnitude of 6.0, jolted Indonesia’s western province of North Sumatra this morning, but there were no preliminary reports of damages or casualties, authorities said.

 

The quake hit at 02:28 Jakarta time today (1928 GMT Friday), with the epicentre at 15 km north-west of the North Tapanuli district, and a depth of 10 km, said the country’s meteorology, climatology and geophysics agency.

 

The quake, followed by two tremors, with magnitudes of 5.1 and 5.0 respectively, did not have the potential to trigger a tsunami, according to the agency.

 

So far, there were no reports of damages or casualties, including in the hardest-hit areas of the North Tapanuli district, said Agus Wibisono, head of the Search and Rescue Office, for the Nias Island of the North Sumatra province.

 

“We got information from the rescuers in the North Tapanuli district that, so far there are no damages or casualties there,” he told reporters via phone.

 

The tremors were also felt in the nearby province of Aceh, according to the agency.– NNN-ANTARA

 

Source: NAM News Network

Malaysia Reported 2,007 New COVID-19 Infections, Five More Deaths

KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 1 (NNN-BERNAMA) – Malaysia reported 2,007 new COVID-19 infections as of midnight, bringing the national total to 4,840,879, according to the health ministry.

 

There are 12 new imported cases, with 1,995 cases being local transmissions, data released by the ministry showed.

 

Another five deaths have been reported, pushing the death toll to 36,374.

 

The ministry reported 1,407 new recoveries, lifting the total number of cured and discharged to 4,778,736.

 

There are 25,769 active cases, with 42 being held in intensive care and 19 of those in need of assisted breathing.

 

The country reported 3,315 vaccine doses administered yesterday, and 86.1 percent of the population have received at least one dose, 84.2 percent are fully vaccinated and 49.7 percent have received the first booster and 1.5 percent have received the second booster.– NNN-BERNAMA

 

Source: NAM News Network

Separatists In Indonesia’s West Papua Killed Four

JAKARTA, Oct 1 (NNN-ANTARA) – At least 12 people, working on building a road in Indonesia’s province of West Papua, were attacked by armed separatists, with four of the workers shot dead, a spokesman of the provincial police confirmed, yesterday.

 

Adam Erwindi told local media that, the attack took place on Thursday night, and a number of personnel have been deployed immediately at the scene, to rescue other victims who were still not found.

 

The West Papua National Liberation Army, the armed wing of the Free Papua Movement (OPM), claimed responsibility for the attack, saying, it was part of their struggle for independence from Indonesia, which they accused of conducting a genocidal campaign against indigenous communities in Papua.

 

The OPM has been seeking independence through guerrilla wars, in the past several decades, targeting soldiers, police personnel, as well as, civilians.– NNN-ANTARA

 

Source: NAM News Network

Malaysia Aims To Add US Flights After Safety Rating Boost

KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA — The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration has upgraded Malaysia’s air safety rating to Category 1, allowing the country’s carriers to expand flights to the United States after a three-year hiatus, Transport Minister Wee Ka Siong said Saturday.

 

Wee said the move will bolster tourism and economic growth in Malaysia, which opened from pandemic shutdowns in April.

 

“With the return to Category 1, our airlines can now mount new flights to the U.S. and have code sharing with American carriers. There is no more barrier now,” said Wee, who was in Montreal for an ICAO assembly. “This is good news after the COVID-19 pandemic.”

 

Riad Asmat, CEO of low-cost carrier AirAsia Malaysia, said it was a “very good start.” He said AirAsia, currently the only Malaysian carrier that flies to the United States — from Kuala Lumpur to Honolulu — will seek opportunities to expand in the U.S.

 

The FAA lowered Malaysia’s rating in November 2019 to Category 2 due to non-compliance with safety standards. The FAA identified deficiencies in areas including technical expertise, record keeping and inspection procedures.

 

Under the FAA system, countries are listed either as Category 1, which meets International Civil Aviation Organization standards, or Category 2, which doesn’t meet standards.

 

Wee told an online news conference that the downgrade prompted Malaysia to restructure its Civil Aviation Authority and make various efforts to strengthen its aviation workforce, documentation processes and inspection methods to ensure effective safety oversight.

 

He said the FAA was satisfied the issues identified in 2019 had been rectified but found 29 new problems in its December assessment. Those issues were swiftly rectified in the first half this year, he said, and the FAA has restored Malaysia’s Category 1 rating.

 

Malaysia Airlines CEO Izham Ismail said the national carrier will resume flight plans with its partners, especially American Airlines, but didn’t elaborate.

 

Source: Voice of America