Myanmar jails Singaporean, Malaysian journalists for 2 months over drone use

Myanmar jails Singaporean, Malaysian journalists for 2 months over drone use

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)

NAYPYIDAW: A Myanmar court jailed two journalists on assignment for Turkey's state broadcaster, along with their interpreter and driver, for two months on Friday (Nov 11) for violating an aircraft law by filming with a drone.

Cameraman Lau Hon Meng from Singapore and reporter Mok Choy Lin from Malaysia, were detained on Oct 27 along with their Myanmar interpreter, Aung Naing Soe, and driver, Hla Tin.

The four had been working on a documentary for TRT World, the English-language subsidiary of the Turkish Radio and Television Corporation, when they were detained for attempting to fly a drone near parliament in the capital, Naypyidaw.

While none of the four detained is a Turkish national, the case has further strained diplomatic ties in the wake of President Tayyip Erdogan accusing Myanmar's military of carrying out a "genocide" against the Buddhist-majority country's Rohingya Muslim minority.

Police initially began investigations into whether they had violated an import-export rule that carries a penalty of up to three years in jail, but the judge in the case opted to introduce a fresh charge of contravening the 1934 Burma Aircraft Act, which carries a maximum sentence of three months.

Both the cameraman and reporter pleaded guilty to the lesser charge, and the judge sentenced all four to two months, according to a Reuters reporter at the hearing.

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

“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,” said defence lawyer Khin Maung Zaw.

The lawyer said he would appeal for a reduction in the sentence to a fine.

Before proceedings began on Friday, Mok told reporters in the court that they were sorry for any disrespect of the Myanmar's laws, but complained that the legal process had lacked transparency.

"We have no idea what is going on and we are not allowed to speak to our family," she said.

"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."

The Malaysian Foreign Ministry said the Embassy of Malaysia in Yangon had visited Ms Mok and she "was reported to be in good health". The Embassy is closely cooperating with the Myanmar authorities, as well as the Embassies of Singapore and Turkey in Myanmar to monitor and render the necessary consular assistance to their respective nationals, it added in a statement.

"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 visit and every effort should be made to ensure adherence," it added.

Meanwhile, a Singapore Foreign Ministry spokesperson also said the Singapore Embassy in Yangon has been visiting Mr Lau and will continue to offer consular assistance to him and his family.

POSSIBLE NEW CHARGES

A fresh hearing will be held on Nov 16 to determine whether charges will be laid for violating the import-export rules.

A lawyer told Channel NewsAsia that given the "harsh" sentence on Friday, he is not optimistic about the upcoming hearing.

Anyone who flouts the import-export rules could be jailed for up to three years.

Interpreter Aung Naing Soe told reporters as he was brought to court the four had not been mistreated while in custody, though police had asked about who they had spoken to and about the trips he had made to several of Myanmar's restive regions, including Rakhine.

Myanmar says the military counter-insurgency clearance operation launched in August was provoked by Rohingya militant attacks on security posts in Rakhine State, and has denied both Erdogan's accusation and a top UN official's description of the operation as a "classic case of ethnic cleansing".

More than 600,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled Myanmar for neighbouring Bangladesh since the military operation began.

Source: Reuters//CNA/kc

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