BANGKOK, 10 November 2017 – A Myanmar court today sentenced two foreign journalists who were on assignment for Turkey’s state broadcaster, along with their interpreter and driver, to two months in prison on charges of filming with a drone without official permission, according to news reports. The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the sentencing and calls on Myanmar’s authorities to release the reporting team immediately.
According to news reports, police detained the two journalists Mok Choy Lin, a Malaysian national, and Lau Hon Meng, a Singaporean citizen, along with their interpreter, Aung Naing Soe, and driver Hla Tin on October 27. The group had been attempting to fly a drone near Myanmar’s parliament building in the capital, Naypyidaw, for a documentary for TRT World, the English-language subsidiary of the Turkish Radio and Television Corporation, according to Reuters.
Authorities charged the group with violating Section 8 of Myanmar’s Import Export Law, which does not specifically refer to drones, and carries a penalty of up to three years in jail, according to news reports.
At today’s trial in Naypyidaw, the judge introduced a new charge under the 1934 Burman Aircraft Act, which carries a maximum sentence of three months.
The journalists pleaded guilty to the lesser charge in hopes of more lenient treatment, their defense lawyer Khin Maung Zaw told reporters.
Authorities have held the four defendants in pre-trial detention.
A new hearing will be held on November 16 to decide if the state will pursue additional charges under the Export-Import Law, reports said.
TRT World issued a statement on October 31 saying that Lau and Mok entered Myanmar on journalist visas on October 21 and had informed Myanmar’s Information Ministry about their filming activities and schedule, according to the Singapore-based, English-language paper The Strait Times.
“We condemn today’s sentencing to prison of journalists Mok Choy Lin and Lau Hon Meng, their interpreter and driver,” said Shawn Crispin, CPJ’s senior Southeast Asia representative. “Without clear legislation on drone use, Myanmar’s legal authorities are making up the rules as they see fit to suppress the news media. Journalists should never be jailed for their reporting activities.”
On the day of the group’s detention, Myanmar authorities raided the home of Aung Naing Soe, who is also a local news reporter, searched documents and confiscated his computer memory sticks, reports said. The reporters’ sentencing comes amid a wider crackdown on the media in Myanmar, CPJ research shows.
News reports noted Lin and Meng’s arrests also come against the backdrop of bilateral tensions between Turkey and Myanmar over Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan’s comments in September that Myanmar’s repression of ethnic Rohingya Muslims constituted “genocide.” Myanmar has consistently denied the charges.