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Malaysian jailed two months for using a drone in Myanmar

Mok Choy Lin arrested for flying a drone

Drones are an incredible tool to capture amazing video footages from the sky. Unfortunately, flying the drone at the wrong place could land you in trouble especially if you’re using it at a restricted zone.

A Malaysian journalist along with her Singaporean colleague and two local crew members were recently detained in Myanmar over drone use. After their arrest sometime last month, all four of them were sentenced to 2 months in prison for violating the local aviation act.

(L) Lau Hong Meng from Singapore, (R) Mok Choy Lin from Malaysia. Photo Credit: REUTERS

According to Reuters, all four of them were detained on 27 October for attempting to fly a drone near the parliament building in Naypyitaw. They were on a documentary assignment for TRT World, which is a subsidiary of Turkish Radio and Television Corporation.

Initially, they were being investigated if they had violated their import-export regulation which carries a penalty of up to 3 years in jail but later, they were charged under the 1934 Burma Aircraft Act which carries a jail sentence of up to 3 months. It looks like their ordeal isn’t over yet as they will be having another hearing on 16 November to decide if they had violated the import-export rules.

According to TRT World’s statement, both Lau Hong Meng and Mok Choy Lin entered Myanmar on journalist visas on 21 October to shoot a documentary in various locations with conventional cameras and a drone until 27 October. They mentioned that the Myanmar Information Ministry was informed about their filming activities and schedule. The crew members wanted to film the Parliament building using a drone after they had interviewed a member of Parliament. Unfortunately, they were detained by security officials before they could fly the drone.

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When Reuters contacted an official from the Information Ministry, they mentioned that TRT World had only made a broad request to film in Yangon and Rakhine state, and they didn’t mention their visit to Naypyitaw or the use of a drone. The Committee to Project Journalists (CPJ) had condemned the sentence for the four journalists. Shawn Crispin, CPJ’s senior Southeast Asia representative said “Without clear legislation on drone use, Myanmar’s legal authorities are making up the rules as they see fit to suppress the news media. Journalists should never be jailed for their reporting activities.”

If you own a drone, it is recommended to check if there are any restrictions on its usage when travelling overseas. It is best to avoid using it over crowded places or at high-security areas especially controlled airspace.

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Alexander Wong