Singaporean and Malaysian journalists jailed for drone use in Myanmar face possible immigration charge

Singaporean cameraman Lau Hon Meng and Malaysian documentary producer Mok Choy Lin were sentenced to two months' jail each on Nov 10 for breaching Myanmar's Aircraft Act. PHOTO: REUTERS

BANGKOK - A Singaporean as well as a Malaysian journalist, jailed for trying to use a drone over a Parliament building in Napyipdaw, are now being accused of breaching the country's immigration law.

The new charge, if accepted by a Myanmar court, would mean the embattled journalists would face trial for allegedly breaching two additional laws.

Singaporean cameraman Lau Hon Meng, 43, Malaysian documentary producer Mok Choy Lin, 47, along with their local translator Aung Naing Soe and driver Hla Tin, were sentenced to two months' jail each on Nov 10 for breaching the country's Aircraft Act.

Lau's lawyer, Mr Myo Win, had applied for the court to dismiss a second charge of breaching the country's Export and Import Law, which had also been brought against all four people. He had argued that they had already been convicted of the same offence.

On Monday (Nov 27), the court dismissed this application.

Defence lawyers further found out that immigration officials were attempting to prosecute Lau and Mok for breaching Myanmar's 1947 Immigration Act. The court is expected to decide on whether to proceed with this new charge during the next hearing on Dec 4, Mr Myo Win told The Straits Times.

Under the Export and Import Law, those who export or import restricted, prohibited or banned goods can be jailed for up to three years and fined.

Under Myanmar's Immigration Act, anyone who, after legal entry, remains in the country in contravention of rules can be jailed for up to five years and fined.

Lawyer Khin Maung Zaw, who represents Mok, Aung Naing Soe and Hla Tin, told The Straits Times: "They are a little anxious."

Mr Myo Win plans to appeal to a higher court to get the Export and Import Law charge dismissed.

The four people were detained on Oct 27 while producing a documentary for Turkey's state broadcaster Turkish Radio and Television Corporation (TRT). After their first conviction, they were sent to Yamethin prison in central Myanmar - about two hours' drive from Naypyitaw.

TRT's English-language subsidiary, TRT World, said in an earlier statement that 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".

Drones in Myanmar occupy a legal grey area. While Myanmar has no specific law on drones, individual authorities have tried to restrict the use of such equipment over their premises. Drones have been used by photographers, and also by the authorities to gather meteorological data and conduct structural checks on bridges.

Lau is a freelance cameraman, while Mok is veteran of Singapore broadcasting, having produced, written and directed shows like Under One Roof and Phua Chu Kang, and been Channel NewsAsia's vice-president of international production. She has also worked for the National Geographic Channel as its director of regional production.

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