French National Detained for Flying Drone near Union Parliament

By Htet Naing Zaw 12 February 2019

NAYPYITAW—Naypyitaw police have detained a French national for illegally flying a drone in a restricted area near Gate 2 of the Union Parliament building on Feb. 7.

Police Captain Min Tin, the head of Phayarkone Police Station in Ottara Thiri Township in Naypyitaw, told The Irrawaddy on Monday that a case was filed against French national Arthur Desclaux under the 2012 Export and Import Law for illegally bringing a drone into the country. “We are currently investigating and will proceed in accordance with the law,” he said.

The 27-year-old French citizen was remanded until Feb. 22. Police said they would complete their investigation by then and Desclaux would be referred to the court.

Desclaux entered Myanmar through the Myawaddy border checkpoint from Mae Sot town in Thailand’s Tak province on Jan. 30. He rode a bicycle and arrived in Naypyitaw on Feb. 7. He was arrested while flying the drone on arrival in Naypyitaw and had not even booked a hotel yet.

According to police sources, he asked the authorities to inform his family about the arrest. He said he is the eldest of three siblings and works for six months a year, spending the other six months travelling. He added that he loves traveling in Myanmar.

It is not clear what kind of images Desclaux had captured with his drone, said Police Capt. Min Tin, who had not yet seen the pictures. “That is confidential [evidence for the investigation] and we have asked for help from the relevant authorities. We are working together with the Criminal Investigation Department.”

The police captain added, “[Desclaux] said he flew his drone as this road is wide and very beautiful. But we do not know his intention and he could not show us any documents. Therefore, he is charged under the Export and Import Law.”

In October 2017, Malaysian Mok Choy Lin, a producer for Turkish state broadcaster TRT World, freelance camera operator Lau Hon Meng from Singapore, and their interpreter Ko Aung Naing Soe and driver U Hla Tin from Myanmar were arrested for attempting to take pictures with drones. They faced charges including violating Section 8 of the Export and Import Law, which later was dropped. They spent two months in prison under the 1934 colonial-era Myanmar Aircraft Act for filming with a drone and released in December of that year.

In Myanmar, those who fly drones should only be charged according to specific regulations and not under the Export and Import Law, said Naypyitaw-based lawyer U Khin Maung Zaw, who served as the defense lawyer for the TRT drone case in Naypyitaw. He said those who brought in such materials from foreign countries and used them here should not be charged with a crime.

He said this action “undermines the country’s tourism image and it is a shame. Now drones are used to take pictures of weddings or merit-making ceremonies. It is not clear how these people obtain drones, with permits or not. And we have not heard whether there are any restrictions upon them. But this case, there was a feeling that the Parliament was being assaulted.”

Police Capt. Min Tin said he could not comment on whether the arrest of the foreign tourist would damage Myanmar’s tourism image, but he said there is a sign near the No. 2 Gate of Parliament that no drones are allowed to fly over the Parliament building.

He said, “He [Desclaux] could not prove that these materials were brought in with permission. If he declared what he had been carrying and filled in the form at the border entrance [in Myawaddy], there would be no problem. But if he did not declare it, he violated the Export and Import Law.”

Article 8 of the Export and Import Law prohibits people from exporting and importing restricted materials. Violators face imprisonment and a fine.