Lawyers Object to Charging Journalists Under Export, Import Law for Flying Drone Over Parliament

By Htet Naing Zaw 16 November 2017

NAYPYITAW — Lawyers of two foreign journalists and two Myanmar nationals, who have already been sentenced to two months in prison under the Aircraft Act for flying a drone near Myanmar’s Parliament, have raised an objection to another charge they are facing under the 2012 Export and Import Law.

Journalists Lau Hon Meng from Singapore and Mok Choy Lin from Malaysia along with their interpreter Aung Naing Soe and driver Hla Tin were detained by police on Oct. 27 after they attempted to fly a drone near Parliament in Naypyitaw.

The four were initially charged under the 2012 Export and Import Law for illegally bringing the drone into the country. However, at the trial on Nov. 10, they were faced with an unexpected charge and sentenced to two months in jail for breaching the colonial era 1934 Myanmar Aircraft Act.

At the court hearing on Thursday, their lawyers objected to the Export/Import Law charge, which carries a penalty of up to three years in prison.

“The plaintiff police officer testified that he knew the defendants had been sentenced to two months in prison for flying a drone. According to the law, no one shall be tried on similar charges. So I plead that the charge should be dropped,” lawyer U Myo Win, who is representing Lau Hon Meng, told the judge.

The judge accepted his pleading of double jeopardy, but the prosecution lawyer insisted that the defense lawyers submit a written pleading, which the latter agreed to do.

The next court hearing is set for Nov. 20, where the judge will decide if the Export/Import Law charge is valid or not.

“I’m expecting the best. I feel that the trial has been quite fair. I hope mine is a wrong arrest,” Ko Aung Naing Soe told The Irrawaddy. He is well respected among Myanmar’s journalistic community as a fixer, photographer and cameraman.

U Khin Maung Zaw, a lawyer acting for the defendants, said that the charge for breaching the export and import law was inappropriate because the penalty of two months’ imprisonment was supposed to cover not only flying the drone, but also bringing it into the country.

The plaintiff police officer told the court that they had transferred the case to the Criminal Investigation Department at the instruction of the headquarters of the Myanmar Police Force, and also sought the remarks of the Ministry of Planning and Finance and Ministry of Commerce regarding the charges.

The Customs Department replied that the four had not declared the drone at the airport on their arrival, according to the police officer.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.