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Burmese police said on Saturday they were preparing to charge journalists working for Turkey’s state broadcaster TRT, their local interpreter and driver for bringing a drone into the country without permission.
The police were also expecting to obtain court permission to remand the four for up to 15 days as they prepare to charge them under Section 8 of the Export and Import Law. Violators of it can be jailed for up to three years.
The journalists — Lau Hon Meng from Singapore and Mok Choy Lin from Malaysia — plus their interpreter Aung Naing Soe and driver Hla Tin have been detained since Friday for flying a drone near Parliament in the capital Naypyitaw.
The development comes amid tension between Turkey and Burma over the Rohingya crisis. In early September, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said the death of the Rohingya constituted a “genocide” aimed at Muslim communities in the region, a charge Burma denies.
More than 600,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled the majority-Buddhist Burma for neighbouring Bangladesh since security forces responded to Rohingya militants’ attacks on 25 August by launching a crackdown.
Turkish broadcaster TRT said on its website that the network “is in discussions with Myanmar authorities to secure their release. Both journalists had valid visas.”
Burmese police spokesman Police Colonel Myo Thu Soe told Reuters the journalists “illegally imported the drone” and all four will be charged under the Export and Import Law.
The law does not specifically refer to drones, but it says that “no person shall export or import restricted, prohibited and banned goods,” and that, “without obtaining licence, no person shall export or import the specified goods which is to obtain permission.”
“We are going to the court now to obtain the arraignment, we will get it today,” said Police Lieutenant Tun Tun Win. He said that the remand will be for up to 15 days but police expect to file charges within 10 days.
Several journalists in Burma have been arrested this year, leading rights groups to warn that the gains made in press freedom since the end of military rule risk being reversed under the administration of national leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
The two foreign journalists are detained at police station no. 1 in Naypyidaw, while the two Burmese nationals have been transferred to a prison in the nearby town of Pyinmana.
On Friday night, about 25 police staged an evening raid on the Yangon house of the Burmese interpreter, well-known domestic reporter Aung Naing Soe, seizing his computer memory sticks and searching documents.
Burmese state broadcaster MRTV said the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had informed the Singaporean and Malaysian embassies about the matter.