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Myanmar Drops Illegal Drone Charges Against Journalists

Singaporean journalist Lau Hon Meng, center left, and Malaysian journalist Mok Choy Lin, both accused of flying drones illegally over parliament buildings, are escorted at a court in Naypyitaw, Myanmar, Nov. 10, 2017.

A Myanmar court on Thursday dropped additional charges against two foreign journalists and their local staff who were arrested in October for allegedly flying a drone over the parliament.

Lau Hon Meng, a Singaporean, and Mok Choy Lin, a Malaysian, working for the Turkish state broadcaster TRT will be freed from detention together with their local interpreter Aung Naing Soe and driver Hla Tin on Jan.5, after serving a 2-month prison sentence for illegally flying a drone, their lawyer said.

Khin Maung Zaw said that authorities dropped more the serious charges of importing a drone without permission and immigration violations against the foreigners after concluding that the journalists and their staff did not intent to endanger national security.

Authorities also wanted to maintain good diplomatic relations with the countries of the two journalists, he said.

The journalists and their staff were detained Oct. 27 after attempting to fly a drone over the legislative complex in the capital, Naypitaw.

Myanmar Journalists
Myanmar Journalists

In a separate case Wednesday, a court extended the detention of two Reuters journalists and set their trial for Jan. 10 on charges of violating state secrets.

Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were arrested Dec. 12 for acquiring "important secret papers" from two policemen. The police officers had worked in Rakhine state, where abuses widely blamed on the military have driven more than 630,000 Rohingya Muslims to flee into neighboring Bangladesh. The charges are punishable by up to 14 years in prison.

Rights and media groups have criticized the new civilian government led by the Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi for continuing to use colonial-era laws to threaten and imprison journalists. Such laws were widely used by a military junta that had ruled Myanmar to muzzle critics and the media.