S'porean journalist given 2 months' jail in Myanmar

Singaporean journalist Lau Hon Meng (far left) and Malaysian producer Mok Choy Lin leaving the court after their trial yesterday in Naypyitaw. They were working on a documentary for Turkish Radio and Television Corporation when they were held on Oct
Singaporean journalist Lau Hon Meng (left) and Malaysian producer Mok Choy Lin leaving the court after their trial yesterday in Naypyitaw. They were working on a documentary for Turkish Radio and Television Corporation when they were held on Oct 27.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Cameraman among four sentenced for using drone to film in capital without permission

Four people, including a Singaporean cameraman and a Malaysian producer, were each sentenced to two months' jail in Myanmar yesterday after both pleaded guilty to filming using a drone, in violation of the country's Aircraft Act.

Singaporean Lau Hon Meng, 43, and Malaysian Mok Choy Lin, 47, as well as their local interpreter Aung Naing Soe and driver Hla Tin, were detained on Oct 27 while working on a documentary for Turkish Radio and Television Corporation (TRT).

They were accused of trying to use a drone to record video images of the Hluttaw, or House of Representatives building, in the capital Naypyitaw without permission.

According to a Reuters report, defence lawyer Khin Maung Zaw, said: "The detainees admitted that they committed the crime hoping they would only be fined, so it shocked us when the judge sentenced them to two months."The lawyer said he would lodge an appeal to reduce the sentence to a fine.

The four have also been charged with another offence under Myanmar's import and export law, and the hearing for that case will be held on Nov 16. They could be jailed for up to three years for the offence.

Drones are a legal grey area in Myanmar. While there is no specific law governing their use, the individual authorities have tried to restrict their use on their premises. They have, however, been used in the country to gather meteorological data and conduct structural checks.

TRT is Turkey's state broadcaster. According to an Oct 31 statement issued by TRT World, its English-language subsidiary, Lau and Mok entered Myanmar on journalist visas on Oct 21, and were filming a documentary. They "shot in various locations with conventional cameras as well as with a drone, up until Oct 27", the statement said.

UNEXPECTED OUTCOME

The detainees admitted that they committed the crime hoping they would only be fined, so it shocked us when the judge sentenced them to two months.

DEFENCE LAWYER KHIN MAUNG ZAW, who plans to lodge an appeal to reduce the sentence to a fine.

"The Myanmar Information Ministry was previously informed about all filming activities and the filming schedule," TRT World added.

"According to information TRT World has gathered from local journalists who are in touch with Myanmar security officials and our team, our crew wanted to film the Parliament building in the capital with a drone after conducting an interview with a Member of Parliament. They were detained by security officials before flying the drone," it said.

Mr Myint Kyaw, an Information Ministry official, speaking to Reuters, said TRT World made a broad request to film only in Yangon and Rakhine state, without mentioning the journalists' visit to Naypyitaw or the use of a drone.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 11, 2017, with the headline 'S'porean journalist given 2 months' jail in Myanmar'. Print Edition | Subscribe