Myanmar police on Tuesday dropped additional charges against two foreign journalists, their interpreter, and driver, sentenced to two months in jail for illegally flying a drone over to film near parliament in the country’s capital Naypyidaw.
Singaporean journalist Lau Hon Meng, and Malaysian journalist Mok Choy Lin, their interpreter 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.
On Nov. 10, a judge sentenced the four to two months in prison for violating the colonial-era Aircraft Act.
Naypyidaw’s Zabuthiri township court also charged them with illegally bringing a drone into Myanmar under the 2012 Import-Export Act, and the two journalists were further charged with violating Myanmar’s Immigration Act on Nov. 27, after their visas expired while they were in custody.
Charges under the latter two acts will be formally withdrawn at the final hearing on Dec. 28, the online news journal The Irrawaddy reported.
“The plaintiff, police lieutenant Tun Tun Win, appeared in court today and withdrew the charges against the four under the import-export act,” the journalists’ lawyer Khin Maung Zaw said.
“He said in court that the Detkhina district police station believes the four did not intend to endanger national security by flying the drone, so high-level police officials ordered that the case against them be dropped,” Khin Maung Zaw said.
Tun Tun Win also told the court that the decision to dismiss the charge against the foreign journalists was intended to advance Myanmar’s relationships with Malaysia and Singapore, he said.
The other plaintiff, immigration official Htay Win, also agreed to drop the charges.
Had the four been convicted of violating the import-export law, they would have faced an additional three years in prison. Furthermore, the two journalists could have received sentences of up to five years for violating the immigration law.
Lau Hon Meng and Mok Choy Lin will be released from jail when they complete their sentences during the first week of January.
Their sentencing was criticized by a member of the Myanmar Press Council who said the punishment was too harsh, and by international press freedom group the Committee to Protect Journalists, which called for their immediate release.
The detentions are part of a string of jailings of and lawsuits against the media in Myanmar since de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her civilian-led National League for Democracy (NLD) party came to power in April 2016.
Rights groups have accused the government of backpedaling on press freedom in the still-developing democracy. Several of the charges against journalists have been filed by the country’s military, which wields great power over Myanmar’s politic and control its security forces.
Two Myanmar nationals working for Reuters news agency were arrested on Dec. 12 for allegedly possessing illegal government documents about security forces in northern Rakhine state, where a military crackdown has driven hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims into neighboring Bangladesh.
If found guilty, they could be sentenced to up to 14 years in prison.
Reported by Win Ko Ko Latt and Khin Khin Ei for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.