Family Members Are Denied Visit With Detained Journalist in Naypyitaw

By Htet Naing Zaw 30 October 2017

NAYPYITAW — Police refused to let family members meet with local reporter Ko Aung Naing Soe, who was among those detained for flying a drone near Myanmar’s Parliament in Naypyitaw on Oct. 26.

Police on patrol detained two foreign reporters, Lau Hon Meng from Singapore and Mok Choy Lin from Malaysia—who were working for Turkish state broadcast TRT World, their interpreter and fixer Ko Aung Naing Soe and driver U Hla Tin, after they found them preparing to take aerial photos of Parliament with a drone.

Police charged them under the 2012 Export and Import Law for illegally bringing the drone into the country and said the two foreign journalists and two Myanmar nationals were being detained separately at No. 1 Police Station in Naypyitaw and at Pyinmana Prison respectively, according to Ko Ye Htoo, who is a close friend of Ko Aung Naing Soe and speaking on behalf of his family.

“[Aung Naing Soe’s] parents tried to meet him at Pyinmana Prison, but they were told that the interrogation was ongoing and they wouldn’t, therefore, be allowed to see him. But [the police] said we would be allowed to see him a couple of days later,” Ko Ye Htoo told The Irrawaddy.

Family members of Ko Aung Naing Soe were not informed about his detention immediately and only found out on Oct. 27 when police searched his house in Yangon. The accused were remanded in custody on Oct. 28 for 14 days, Ko Ye Htoo told The Irrawaddy.

“This case has caused considerable controversy both on social media and off. It is strange that authorities have said nothing about it,” said Ko Ye Htoo.

The Export and Import Law states that “no person shall export or import restricted, prohibited and banned goods” and that “without obtaining license, no person shall export or import the specified goods which is to obtain permission.”

It states that anyone who violates the regulation “shall be punished with imprisonment for a term not exceeding three years or with fine or with both.”

U Nay Tuu, a Pyinmana resident and lawyer who is representing Ko Aung Naing Soe, said detainees can get bail for charges under the Export and Import Law.

Training director U Sein Win of the Myanmar Journalism Institute who went to see Ko Aung Naing Soe told The Irrawaddy that he was not able to meet the detainees at the Naypyitaw police station or Pyinmana prison.

“Police said that detainees were held in custody separately,” U Sein Win said.

Drones are also used by ordinary people, not only journalists and photographers, in Myanmar and it is not clear if there is an official ban on shooting photos of parliamentary buildings with drones, U Sein Win stressed.

“If such a ban is not in force, it is difficult to say that those reporters violated the law,” he said.

In June, three local reporters— The Irrawaddy’s Lawi Weng, also known as U Thein Zaw, and U Aye Naing and Ko Pyae Phone Aung from the DVB were arrested and charged under the Article 17(1) of the Unlawful Associations Act for going into a region controlled by the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) to cover a drug-burning ceremony. They were released in September after the plaintiff – the military – dropped charges against the accused.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.