Journalists remanded in Nay Pyi Taw for flying drone near parliament

By NYAN HLAING LYNN | FRONTIER

NAY PYI TAW — Three reporters and their driver remain in custody after their Friday arrest for flying a drone near the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw compound.

Local journalist Ko Aung Naing Soe and driver U Hla Tin, along with Malaysian citizen Ms Mok Choy Lin and Singaporean Lau Hon Meng, were on assignment for Turkish state broadcaster TRT when they were detained by police in the capital.

After overnight detention in a police station, the four were transferred to remand in Pyinmana where they remained on Monday.

Colonel Shwe Thaung, a deputy chief of the Nay Pyi Taw Council Police Force, would not confirm whether the group would be charged on the weekend. He said a case had been opened under the Export and Import Law to investigate the drone’s importation into the country, under a clause which carries a potential three-year prison sentence.

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After the arrests, a detachment of more than 20 officials from the Myanmar Police Force, Special Branch and local immigration office conducted a warrantless search of Aung Naing Soe Yangon’s home, according to the journalist’s father U Farouk. Five memory sticks were seized in the search.

“They didn’t find [incriminating evidence] at the home,” he told Frontier. “When the memory sticks were checked, they only found photos of scenery. I saw they wrote on the search form that they didn’t find anything unusual and signed the form.”

Aung Naing Soe’s family said the government had not yet contacted them about the arrest.

U Khin Maung Zaw, who is representing Aung Naing Soe and Hla Tin, said it was unclear how the Export and Import Law would apply to the pair, given they were not involved in importing the drone.

He said that the pair had the opportunity to apply for bail if formal charges were handed down by police.

The use of unmanned aerial vehicles remains a legal grey zone in Myanmar, with attempts to legislate an update to the country’s civil aviation laws stalled in parliament since mid-2016.

The Department of Civil Aviation announced in September 2015 that drone-flyers would be required to register their vehicles before use, while a number of restrictions on the use of drones in public space have been implemented by municipal and religious authorities.

Despite the lack of legal clarity, drones are widely available for sale in camera and electronics retail stores in Yangon, and in recent years there have been regular meet-ups among a growing community of drone pilot enthusiasts.  

On October 1, a 22-year-old tourist was cautioned by trustees at Shwedagon Pagoda for flying a drone over the religious monument. His drone was shot down by a member of the pagoda’s security team and its wreckage confiscated, according to the Global New Light of Myanmar.

Additional reporting by Sean Gleeson in Yangon.

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