Myanmar Authorities Free Foreign Journalists Who Flew Drone For Turkish Documentary

From left to right, Myanmar interpreter Aung Naing Soe, driver Hla Tin, Singaporean cameraman Lau Hon Meng, and Malaysian producer Mok Choy Lin.

Myanmar authorities on Friday released two foreign journalists, their interpreter, and their driver who were detained in late October for illegally flying a drone over the parliament building in the country’s capital Naypyidaw.

Singaporean camera operator Lau Hon Meng, Malaysian producer Mok Choy Lin, their Myanmar interpreter Aung Naing Soe, and driver Hla Tin were arrested on Oct. 27 as they worked on a documentary for Turkish Radio and Television Corporation subsidiary TRT World.

They were sentenced on Nov. 10 to two months in Yamethin Prison in Mandalay region, around 100 kilometers (60 miles) north of the capital, for violating Myanmar’s colonial-era Aircraft Act and were scheduled for release on Jan. 5.

Naypyidaw’s Zabuthiri township court had also charged them with illegally bringing a drone into Myanmar, and the two journalists were further charged with immigration violations after their visas expired while they were in custody.

The court dropped those additional charges on Thursday.

“We admitted we were guilty of violating Article 10 of Myanmar’s Aircraft Act, so we each received a two-month sentence,” Aung Naing Soe told RFA’s Myanmar Service. “We have been freed today because the court dropped two other charges.”

Aung Naing Soe also said that authorities questioned him about his recent trips to Myanmar’s volatile Shan and Rakhine states rather than the drone incident.

Ethnic militias have been battling the Myanmar army in parts of Shan state, and a recent military crackdown in Rakhine state has driven 655,000 Rohingya Muslims across the border to Bangladesh in what the United Nations and United States have called ethnic cleansing.

The crew, which had informed the Myanmar government in advance of their intention to film, was shooting a documentary in Naypyidaw, though TRT World has not disclosed the subject of the project.

Muslim-majority Turkey has been a vocal critic of Myanmar’s treatment of the Rohingya, with President Tayyip Erdogan months earlier accusing the country of genocide.

Nearly a dozen journalists have been arrested this year under the civilian-led government of de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi, earning her administration the wrath of rights groups for appearing to backpedal on press freedom after decades of stifling military rule in Myanmar.

Two Reuters reporters arrested on Dec. 12 remain in detention for violating Myanmar’s colonial-era Official Secrets Act by allegedly possessing classified documents. They face up to 14 years in prison if found guilty.

Reported by Aung Theinkha for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.


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