Police drop charges in Naypyidaw drone case against journalists

Police drop charges in Naypyidaw drone case against journalists

Police have decided to withdraw criminal charges filed against three journalists and their driver under Burma’s Export and Import Law and Immigration Act after the foursome were detained in October for attempting to fly a drone over the parliamentary complex in Naypyidaw.

The presiding judge is expected to rule on the motion to withdraw on 29 December.

Khin Maung Zaw, a lawyer for the defence, told DVB on Tuesday that Police Lieutenant Tun Tun Win made the submission to drop the export-import charges, and a deputy administrative officer from the Immigration Department did likewise.

“The police lieutenant told the court that the Dekkhinathiri district police force instructed him this morning by phone to submit for withdrawal of the export and import case. The police said they didn’t find … intent to endanger national security” through their actions, he said.

Khin Maung Zaw added that “for the two foreign journalists, the police said that they were dropping the [immigration] case for the sake of [bilateral] relations.”

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.

On 10 November, the foursome were sentenced to two months’ imprisonment on a separate charge under the Burma Aircraft Act. Khin Maung Zaw said that as a result, assuming no unexpected developments in the remainder of court proceedings, all four will be released on 5 January.

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The drone case has garnered substantial attention due to the involvement of two foreigners, and at a time when many are questioning the government’s commitment to press freedom.

Meanwhile, the whereabouts of two Reuters journalists detained on 12 December remain unknown. A senior administration official has insisted that they are being treated well and that their families will soon be allowed to visit them. They have been charged under the colonial-era Official Secrets Act and face up to 14 years in prison if convicted.

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