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Three journalists, two of them foreigners, and their driver attended a fourth court hearing on Monday in relation to a drone that prosecutors say was flown illegally near Parliament in Naypyidaw last month, with the non-Burmese duo hit with an additional charge.
The Turkish news agency TRT World’s Lau Hon Meng, a Singaporean, and Malaysian Mok Choy Lin were detained alongside Burmese nationals Aung Naing Soe — a local journalist and fixer — and driver Hla Tin, on 27 October after attempting to shoot drone footage over the legislative complex.
At Monday’s hearing, the two foreign journalists were informed that they were facing an additional charge under section 13(1) of the Immigration Act, which carries with it a minimum six months’ to maximum five years’ imprisonment, a fine of 1,500 kyats ($1.10), or both.
It was not the first time that new charges in the case were brought unexpectedly on the day of a hearing: On 10 November, all four men were charged and sentenced the same day to two months in prison under the 1934 Burma Aircraft Act’s Article 10. The defence did not anticipate that charge, expecting that the case would be based on the foursome’s alleged violation of Burma’s Exports and Imports Law, which was the prosecution’s original filing.
Also on Monday, the defence’s previously submitted motion seeking to have the illegal import charge thrown out was dismissed by the court.
Citing double jeopardy-esque jurisprudence, defence lawyer Khin Maung Zaw had argued that due to the conviction under the Burma Aircraft Act, the defendants could not face a similar charge — in this case the alleged import law violation — twice over the same incident.
But the judge on Monday ruled that the charges were sufficiently distinct to allow further prosecution under the Exports and Imports Law’s article 8, which carries with it a maximum sentence of three years in prison.
The defendants are expected to formally submit pleas on that charge at their next hearing, scheduled for 4 December.
With reporting by Aung Ko Ko Latt and Kimberley Phillips
Correction: A previous version of this story erroneously stated the maximum punishment allowable under the Immigration Act’s section 13(1). It is five years in prison, not one.