Foreign reporters slapped with additional charge in Nay Pyi Taw drone case

By NYAN HLAING LYNN | FRONTIER

NAY PYI TAW — Four journalists currently jailed in the capital walked into court Monday hoping for word they would soon be free.

Instead, the judge presiding over their case rejected a defence motion to withdraw charges under the Export and Import Act and informed two of the defendants they would be facing additional charges under the Immigration Act, leaving them at the end of a 20 minute hearing with the prospect of years more behind bars.

It was a bitter day in particular for Ko Aung Naing Soe, who in other circumstances would be celebrating his 27th birthday at home in Yangon.

Arriving at the Zabuthiri Township court around noon, a group of around 20 well-wishers greeted the journalist with a birthday song and presented him with a cake. After blowing out the candles he was fed a piece of the cake by his mother, unable to serve himself while his hands and feet were shackled.

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The reporter, along with Malaysia’s Ms Mok Choy Lin, Singapore’s Mr Lau Mon Meng and local driver U Hla Tin were arrested on October 27 while planning to use a drone to film the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw compound in Nay Pyi Taw.

Earlier this month, after two weeks behind bars without access to their families, the four were issued a summary charge under the colonial-era Aircraft Act and committed to serve a two-month custodial sentence at Yamethin Prison, nearly two hours away from the courtroom.

The mood outside the courtroom was sombre after the motion to dismiss the unlawful importation charge was dismissed.

Maung Saungkha, a poet who arranged Monday’s makeshift birthday celebration, recalled Aung Naing Soe helping him celebrate his birthday while detained after his infamous 2015 satirical poem about former President U Thein Sein.

“I feel really sorry for him,” Maung Saungkha said.

Aung Naing Soe’s mother said her only wish for his birthday was for him to be released from prison.

All four defendants will face a maximum two-year sentence under the Export and Import Law charge. The Immigration Act offence, a provision which allows foreigners who behave unlawfully in Myanmar to face criminal charges, carries a maximum five-year penalty.

Proceedings have been adjourned until December 4.

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