Singaporean Journalist Detained After Flying Drone Near Myanmar’s Parliament House

Singaporean journalist Lau Hon Meng has been detained in Myanmar since Friday (27 Oct), as part of a group flying a drone over Myanmar’s Parliament House in Nay Pyi Taw. Mr Lau was detained with three others, including Malaysian Mok Choy Lin. The group were allegedly on assignment for Turkish Radio and Television (TRT).

The Ministry of Information in Myanmar announced their detention on its Facebook page, publishing pictures of the journalists and drones seized.

The Allegations

According to the Myanmar Ministry of Home Affairs, they had allegedly intended to use a drone to record videos and take pictures of the Hluttaw building (House of Representatives) in when security guards spotted them.

The Straits Times reported that Aung Naing Soe, an established local reporter and their driver Hla Tin, have also been arrested and are currently remanded in a prison in Pyinmana while Mr Lau and Ms Mok have been detained at Myoma Police Station within Nay Pyi Taw.

A Crackdown On Press Freedom?

More than 20 police are believed to staged a raid on the Yangon house of Mr Aung on Friday night, seizing his computer, documents and memory sticks.

Reuters added that this arrest comes on the back of several other arrests involving journalists in Myanmar. Leading rights groups have warned that initial gains in press freedom due to the policies under national leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s leadership risk being reversed, if the crackdown on the media continues.

Possible Penalties

In separate statements to Reuters, Police Lieutenant Tun Tun Win confirmed that the police expect to file charges within the next 10 days while spokesman Police Colonel Myo Thu Soe affirmed that if they have “illegally imported the drone”, all four will be charged under Myanmar’s Export and Import Law.

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Upon closer inspection, this law does not specifically prohibit drone activity. However, it 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”.

For illegally importing a drone into the country without prior application of a valid license, Mr Lau faces a potential 3 year jail term and/or a fine.

TRT Hopes To Secure Their Release

According to Reuters, TRT has issued a public statement on their website that the network “is in discussions with Myanmar authorities to secure their release” and that “both journalists had valid visas”. Myanmar’s state broadcaster MRTV also said that the local Ministry of Foreign Affairs have already informed the Singaporean and Malaysian embassies accordingly.

PSA About Drones In Singapore

For the uninitiated, drones are unmanned aerial devices that can be remotely piloted to perform a variety of cool functions.

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In Singapore, they have been used by filmmaker Jack Neo to film aerial shots for his local movie, Ah Boys to Men.

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SingPost is also expected to complete trials for mail package delivery via drones by early 2018.

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However, do take note that local drone laws are strict, and a permit is required to fly a drone weighing more than 7kg, or within 5km of any airport.

If you wish to use your drone for purely recreational and private purposes, rest assured that you should be able to do so without a permit as long as you do not carry out any of the specified activities under the Unmanned Aircraft (Public Safety and Security) Act.

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