YANGON — Turkish state broadcaster TRT World said journalists detained for attempting to fly a drone near Myanmar’s Parliament in Naypyitaw had informed the government about their plans to film beforehand.
TRT world producer Mok Choy Lin from Malaysia, freelance camera operator Lau Hon Meng from Singapore, their interpreter Ko Aung Naing Soe and driver U Hla Tin were detained on Friday by police for preparing to take aerial footage of Parliament with a drone.
Police charged them under the 2012 Export and Import Law for illegally bringing the drone into the country. The two foreign journalists were being held at No. 1 Police Station in Naypyitaw and two Myanmar nationals were being held at Pyinmana Prison.
The four were remanded until November 10.
TRT World said in a statement the crew was filming a documentary.
Mok Choy Lin and Lau Hon Meng arrived in Yangon on October 21 with journalist visas issued by the Myanmar government, it said, adding, “The Myanmar Information Ministry was previously informed about all filming activities and the filming schedule.”
Citing information from local journalists in touch with its team and security officials, TRT said its crew wanted to capture drone footage of the parliament building after conducting an interview with a member of parliament.
U Myint Kyaw, deputy permanent secretary of the Ministry of Information (MoI), told The Irrawaddy they had received an email asking for a recommendation letter in order to apply for journalist visas.
“In their letter, they only said they are from TRT World and they want to go to Yangon and Rakhine for reporting in October,” he said, adding they did not state plans to visit Naypyitaw.
The ministry replied that according to the new regulation by the Ministry of Labor, Immigration and Population dated Dec. 1, 2016, no MoI recommendation is needed and they could apply directly for journalist visas.
U Khin Maung Zaw, a lawyer representing the two Myanmar nationals, said he and his defendants’ family members are being denied access to the detainees, with authorities saying they are still under investigation.
Police raided the local interpreter Ko Aung Naing Soe’s home in Yangon on Oct. 27, and confiscated memory sticks.
The lawyer also said the date for the court hearing has not yet been given, adding he would request access to the detainees from the Naypyitaw police chief and also bail for the detainees.
Turkish, Singapore, and Malaysian embassies have reportedly said they are closely following the incident.
In response to media queries on the detention, Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson said Myanmar’s foreign affairs ministry had notified the embassy in Yangon.
“The Embassy will provide the necessary consular assistance to Mr. Lau and is closely monitoring developments to ensure that due process is accorded to Mr. Lau. MFA and the Embassy are in close contact with Mr. Lau’s family,” he said.
The Export and Import Law carries up to two years imprisonment.