Jailed journalists in Myanmar drone case ask for second case to be dropped

Cameraman Lau Hon Meng from Singapore (left) and reporter Mok Choy Lin from Malaysia were detained on Oct 27 while working on a documentary for Turkish Radio and Television Corporation.
Cameraman Lau Hon Meng from Singapore (left) and reporter Mok Choy Lin from Malaysia were detained on Oct 27 while working on a documentary for Turkish Radio and Television Corporation.PHOTO: REUTERS

BANGKOK - A defence lawyer urged a Myanmar court on Thursday (Nov 16) to drop a case against journalists accused of illegally importing a drone, on the principle that someone cannot be convicted of the same offence twice.

Four people, including a Singaporean cameraman and a Malaysian documentary producer, were last Friday (Nov 10) sentenced to two months' jail each for breaching the country's Aircraft Act, after they allegedly tried to use a drone to record images of a parliament building in the Myanmar capital.

On Thursday, they were brought before a Naypyitaw court to be tried for allegedly breaching the country's Export and Import Law, over the same incident.

A lawyer for three of the accused, Mr Khin Maung Zaw, told The Straits Times that the defendants had already been convicted for the same offence under the Aircraft Act.

“No one should be convicted twice for the same offence,” he told The Straits Times over the phone.

The court will reconvene on Monday to consider the claim, Mr Khin Maung Zaw said.

Singaporean Lau Hon Meng, 43, Malaysian Mok Choy Lin, 47, along with 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. 

The four, who pleaded guilty to breaching the Aircraft Act, were sent to Yamethin prison in central Myanmar after their conviction. They had reportedly pleaded guilty hoping that they would only be fined. A friend who visited them in prison after that said they were in good health.

TRT is Turkey's state broadcaster. Its English-language subsidiary, TRT World, says Lau and Mok entered Myanmar on journalist visas on Oct 21 and had "shot in various locations with conventional cameras as well as with a drone, up until Oct 27".

While Myanmar has no specific law on drones, individual authorities have tried to restrict the use of such equipment over their premises, such as at the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon. Drones have also been used by the authorities to gather meteorological data and conduct structural checks.

Mok is a veteran of Singapore's broadcasting world. She was first awarded a scholarship by the then Singapore Broadcasting Corporation to do her bachelor's degree in English literature at Cambridge University, and went on to produce, write and direct shows like Under One Roof and Phua Chu Kang.

According to her Linkedin profile, she joined the National Geographic Channel in 2001 and became its director of regional production. In 2012, she joined Channel News Asia as vice-president of international production.