A Myanmar court on 10 November jailed for two months two journalists on assignment for Turkey’s state broadcaster, along with their interpreter and driver, for violating an aircraft law by filming with a drone.
Cameraman Lau Hon Meng from Singapore and reporter Mok Choy Lin from Malaysia, were detained on Oct. 27 along with their Myanmar interpreter, Aung Naing Soe, and driver, Hla Tin.
The four had been working on a documentary for TRT World, the English-language subsidiary of the Turkish Radio and Television Corporation, when they were detained for attempting to fly a drone near parliament in the capital, Naypyitaw.
None of the four is a Turkish national, but the case has further strained diplomatic ties after President Tayyip Erdogan accused Myanmar’s military of carrying out “genocide” of Rohingya Muslims in the Buddhist-majority country.
Police initially investigated whether they had violated an import-export rule that carries a penalty of up to three years in jail, but the judge opted to introduce a fresh charge of contravening the 1934 Burma Aircraft Act, which carries a maximum sentence of three months.
Both the cameraman and reporter pleaded guilty to the lesser charge, and the judge sentenced all four to two months, according to a Reuters reporter at the hearing.
A fresh hearing will be held on Nov. 16 to decide if charges of violating the import-export rules are to be made.
“The detainees admitted that they committed the crime, hoping they would only be fined, so it shocked us when the judge sentenced them to two months,” said defense lawyer Khin Maung Zaw.
The lawyer said he would appeal for the sentence to be reduced to a fine.
David Baulk, of the rights group Fortify Rights, called the judge’s decision to accept the charges, deny bail and sentence the four defendants as “ridiculous as it is dangerous”.
“Once again Myanmar’s judicial system has failed to stand up to state security forces and their blatant abuses of power,” Baulk, a specialist on Myanmar human rights for the group, told Reuter.
More than 600,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled Myanmar for neighboring Bangladesh since the military operation began in August.