Drone use in Myanmar lands Singaporean and Malaysian journalists in jail

On Friday, a Myanmar court jailed a Singaporean and Malaysian journalist together with their interpreter and driver for 2 months over drone use in Myanmar.

Cameraman Lau Hon Meng from Singapore and reporter Mok Choy Lin from Malaysia were on assignment for Turkey’s state broadcaster and were detained together with their Myanmar interpreter, Aung Naing Soe, and driver, Hla Tin on October 27th for attempting to fly a drone near the parliament in the capital, Naypyidaw. They had been working on a documentary for TRT World, an English-language subsidiary of the Turkish Radio and Television Corporation.

Drone use violated the 1934 Burma Aircraft Act

While none of the detainees is a Turkish national, this situation has put more strain on the diplomatic ties between Turkey and Myanmar in the wake of Turkish President Erdogan accusing Myanmar’s military of carrying out a “genocide” against the country’s Rohingya Muslim minority.

Initially, the police investigations focussed on the journalists having violated the import-export rule, which carries a maximum prison time of three years. However, the judge opted to use the 1934 Burma Aircraft Act, which carries a maximum sentence of three months. Both the reporter and cameraman pleaded guilty and were sentenced to two months prison time together with the driver and interpreter, according to Reuters.

Defence lawyer Khin Maung Zaw said: “The detainees admitted that they committed the crime hoping they would only be fined, so it shocked us when the judge sentenced them to two months”.

The lawyer also indicated they would appeal for a reduction of the sentence to a fine.

The Myanmar Information Ministry released this photo of a drone confiscated from the two journalists detained in Nay Pyi Taw.

Lack of transparency

Before Friday’s proceedings, the reporter had said to the media that they were sorry for any disrespect for Myanmar’s laws. He continued to say that the legal process lacked transparency and said:

“We have no idea what is going on and we are not allowed to speak to our family. And the rules and procedures are not explained to us. We were asked to sign statements that are completely in Burmese that we cannot understand”.

After the Embassy of Malaysia visited Ms. Mok from in Yangon, the Malaysian Foreign Ministry she “was reported to be in good health”. In a statement, it said that the Embassy is working closely together with the Myanmar authorities and the Embassies of Singapore and Turkey to observe the situation and to provide consular assistance. It also said that:

“The Ministry would like to reiterate on the need for Malaysian citizens to understand thoroughly the rules and regulations of the host country prior to a visit and every effort should be made to ensure adherence.”

A spokesman for the Singapore Foreign Ministry said that Mr. Lau has been visited by the Singapore Embassy in Yangon and they will continue to provide consular assistance to him and his family.

On November 16th there will be a new hearing to determine if the four detainees will be subject to violating the import-export rules of the country, which carry a maximum sentencing of three years in prison.

Featured photo: Cameraman Lau Hon Meng (left) from Singapore and reporter Mok Choy Lin from Malaysia arrive for their first appearance in the court after they were detained for attempting to fly a drone in Naypyitaw. (Photo: Reuters)

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