Myanmar to drop charges against journalists

Singaporean and team jailed for filming with drone 'did not mean to endanger national security'

NAYPYITAW • Myanmar police said yesterday they would drop pending charges against two journalists working for Turkey's state broadcaster and their interpreter and driver, who were jailed last month for violating an aircraft law by filming with a drone.

Cameraman Lau Hon Meng from Singapore, reporter Mok Choy Lin from Malaysia, Aung Naing Soe - a local journalist who was interpreting for the pair - and driver Hla Tin were detained by police on Oct 27 near Myanmar's Parliament building in the capital Naypyitaw.

They are each serving a two-month prison sentence under a colonial-era aircraft law, but all four still face further charges for importing the drone. The two foreign nationals have also been charged with an immigration offence.

Police lieutenant Tun Tun Win and an immigration officer - the complainants - yesterday appeared in a Naypyitaw court and asked that the charges be dropped.

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

He also said the decision was intended "to forward the relationship between countries", referring to Singapore and Malaysia.

A law officer - the government's prosecutor in the case - is expected to tell the court that the charges will be formally dropped in another hearing set for tomorrow, defence lawyer Khin Maung Zaw said.

"The higher authorities already instructed to terminate with good intention, but the procedure can be accomplished only on that day (Thursday)," the lawyer said.

He added that his clients were "happy" with the decision to drop the charges. The four were set to complete their sentence under the Aircraft Act on Jan 9, but may be released earlier for good behaviour, he added.

The case had raised concerns over press freedom in Myanmar, where a civilian government led by Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi took power last year, but the military retains control of security matters, including the police.

Two Reuters journalists were arrested on Dec 12 after they went to meet police officers for dinner on the outskirts of Yangon.

Mr Wa Lone, 31, and Mr Kyaw Soe Oo, 27, had covered the crisis in western Rakhine state that has driven 655,000 Rohingya Muslims across the border to Bangladesh since August.

The reporters are being investigated under the colonial-era Official Secrets Act, and have not had contact with their families, lawyers or Reuters for the past two weeks.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 27, 2017, with the headline 'Myanmar to drop charges against journalists'. Print Edition | Subscribe