Lau Hon Meng, a Singaporean camera operator for Turkish Radio and Television Corporation subsidiary TRT World, was arrested on October 27 while attempting to fly a drone near Myanmar’s parliament building in the capital, Naypyidaw.
He was detained along with Mok Choy Lin, a TRT World broadcast reporter, Aung Naing Soe, a local reporter and interpreter, and Hla Tin, a local driver. Authorities initially 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.
On November 10, the Zabuthiri Township Court in Naypyidaw introduced a new charge under the 1934 Burman Aircraft Act and sentenced each of the group to two months in prison in a one-day trial for filming with a drone without official permission. The journalists pleaded guilty to the lesser charge in hopes of more lenient treatment, their defense lawyer Khin Maung Zaw told reporters.
TRT World issued a statement on October 31 saying that Meng and Lin 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 Straits Times.
On November 27, a Naypyidaw court added an additional charge against Meng and Lin under the Immigration Act for allegedly conducting illegal activities inside the country, according to press reports. The charge is punishable by six months to five years in prison.
On the day of the group’s detention, Myanmar authorities raided the home of Aung Naing Soe, who is also a local news photographer, where they searched documents and confiscated his computer memory sticks, reports said.
News reports noted Lin and Meng’s arrests came 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.”
Authorities were holding Meng and Lin at Naypyidaw’s police station No. 1, according to a Democratic Voice of Burma report.