Journalists face a second round of charges over Myanmar drone case

By: Madeleine Keck - Posted on: November 17, 2017 | Current Affairs

Lawyers asked the Myanmar court to drop the charges for bringing a drone into the country after claiming the accused are being subjected to a double jeopardy

Malaysian journalist Mok Choy Lin (C) arrives for a hearing on her second trial at Zabu Thiri Court in Naypyitaw, Myanmar Photo: Hein Htet/EPA

A week after being sentenced to two months in prison for flying a drone over Myanmar’s Parliament, two journalists, an interpreter and their driver are facing more charges for violating the nation’s Export and Import Law, which could see them adding three years to their sentence.

Journalists Lau Hon Meng from Singapore and Mok Choy Lin from Malaysia, along with local interpreter Ko Aung Naing Soe, and driver U Hla Tin, were brought before a court in the country’s capital city of Naypyidaw on Thursday.

During the hearing, their group’s lawyers argued that the second charge was unlawful since the first sentence of two months imprisonment was intended to cover both the operating of the drone and the initial taking of the drone across the Myanmar border.

“The plaintiff police officer testified that he knew the defendants had been sentenced to two months in prison for flying a drone. According to the law, no one shall be tried on similar charges. So I plead that the charge should be dropped,” Lau Hon Meng’s lawyer, U Myo Win, told the judge.

The court will reconvene on November 20, at which time the judge will rule on whether the Export and Import Law charge is valid or not.

Police initially detained the four on October 27 after the journalists had attempted to gather aerial footage of the parliament building with a drone, footage that would’ve been used for an English-language documentary they were producing for Turkish state television channel (TRT).

The accused pleaded guilty to the first charges brought against them in the hopes that it would reduce their sentence to just a fine.

According to Myanmar news magazine Frontier, TRT told the court the journalists had obtained all the required permits to fly the drone, but the Customs Department contended that they had not declared the equipment when they entered the country.

Mok Choy Lin of Malaysia told reporters at the court that she and her colleagues have been kept in the dark about the current legal proceedings.

“We don’t know what’s going on. We don’t really understand their legal system,” she stated. “We don’t understand their language and nothing is really explained to us. For the first week of remand, we weren’t even allowed to meet our family or lawyers.”

International non-profit Reporters Without Borders (RSF) urged officials “to abandon the absurd proceedings” in a statement issued on Wednesday.

“The judicial authorities must drop these spurious charges, which are clearly being used to prevent journalists from doing their work,” announced Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk. “These two journalists and their co-workers should not have to suffer because of political and diplomatic circumstances.”

While Myanmar has no explicit laws relating to drone use, individual authorities have attempted to control the use of such equipment – especially by foreigners – over their properties, such as at the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon.

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