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Myanmar Journalist Lau Hon Meng
Image: picture-alliance/AP Photo/A. Shine

Myanmar drops charges against drone journalists

December 26, 2017

Foreign reporters working for Turkey's national broadcaster will likely be released from jail in January. They were imprisoned for flying a drone near the capital's parliament building.


Myanmar will drop pending charges for two foreign journalists and their local fixers, local police announced on Tuesday.

Singaporean cameraman Lau Hon Meng, Malaysian reporter Mok Choy Lin, local journalist and interpreter Aung Naing Soe and local driver Hla Tin were all arrested on October 27 for flying a drone near Myanmar's parliament building in the capital Naypyitaw. They were on assignment for Turkish state broadcaster TRT.

They are serving two-month prison sentences under a colonial-era aircraft law. They also faced further charges for importing the drone with the potential for three years in jail, while the two foreign nationals also faced immigration charges with a potential five year penalty.

Police Lieutenant Tun Tun Win and an immigration officer asked a Naypyitaw courtroom to drop the additional charges.

Tun Tun Win told Reuters news agency that senior police officials had ordered the case dropped because the four did not mean to endanger national security by flying the drone.

He said the decision was also intended "to forward the relationship between countries," referring to the two journalists' home countries.

The judge is now expected to dismiss the case at the next hearing on Thursday. They could be released in early January.  

"The outlook is good," Aung Myo Kyaw, the lawyer for Mok Choy Lin, told the AFP news agency when asked whether the journalists would be released soon.

Turkish criticism

The case had further strained relations with Turkey; President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been deeply critical of Myanmar's handling of the Rohingya crisis.

Rights groups said the case, and a separate one involving two local journalists working for Reuters, both highlighted a backsliding of press freedom under de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi and the military that underpins her government and used to rule outright.

The Reuters reporters had worked on stories about the military crackdown on the Rohingya minority in Rakhine State and were arrested on December 12.

Major governments, including the US, the European Union and Canada, and top United Nations' officials, have demanded their release.

At least 11 journalists have been arrested in Myanmar this year.

aw/msh (AP, AFP, Reuters, dpa)

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