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November 15, 2017

Myanmar: two foreign journalists could get three years on drone charge

Malaysian journalist Mok Choy Lin (right) and Singapore journalist Lau Hon Meng (2nd right) leave Zabu Thiri court during their first trial. They were sentenced to two months in prison along with Myanmar journalist and interpreter Aung Naing Soe (left) and driver Hla Tin. (Photos: EPA-EFE - AUNG HTET/AFP)
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) urges the authorities in Myanmar’s capital, Naypyidaw, to abandon the absurd proceedings against two foreign journalists who were given two-month jail terms last week and are facing another trial tomorrow for trying to film with a drone.

The two journalists, Malaysian producer Mok Choy Lin and Singaporean cameraman Lau Hon Meng, were making a documentary in Myanmar for Turkey’s state-owned TV broadcaster TRT when they were arrested outside the parliament building in Naypyidaw on 27 October.


According to TRT, Mok and Lau had obtained all the required permits so they were stunned when, after interviewing a parliamentarian, police arrested them as they removed their drone from its cover with the aim of taking aerial shots of the parliament building.


The police also arrested Aung Naing Soe, the Burmese journalist who was acting as their interpreter, and their Burmese driver, Hla Tin.


All four were sentenced on 10 November to two months in prison for an alleged violation of the 1934 Aircraft Act. At tomorrow’s trial, Mok and Lau are facing the possibility of an additional sentence of up to three years in prison under section 8 of Myanmar's Import Export Law.


“The judicial authorities must drop these spurious charges, which are clearly being used to prevent journalists from doing their work,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk.


“We second the support the journalists are receiving from TRT and we back the efforts by the Malaysian and Singaporean consulates to obtain their release as soon as possible. These two journalists and their co-workers should not have to suffer because of political and diplomatic circumstances.”


Relations between Turkey and Myanmar soured in September when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan used the term “genocide” to describe the actions of Myanmar’s army in the western state of Rakhine, which are blamed for the Rohingya refugee exodus.


Myanmar is ranked 131st out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2017 World Press Freedom Index.