BANGKOK — A court in Myanmar filed an additional charge Monday against two foreign journalists who already have been sentenced to jail for illegally flying a drone over parliament.
Lau Hon Meng, a Singaporean, and Mok Choy Lin, a Malaysian, were on assignment for Turkish Radio and Television when they were detained on Oct. 27 in Myanmar’s capital, Naypyitaw, along with their local interpreter and driver.
All four were sentenced earlier this month to two months in prison for illegally flying a drone. They also have been charged with importing the drone, and can receive three years in prison if found guilty on that charge.
A Myanmar state-run newspaper has reported that the journalists intended to take photos of parliament buildings and pagodas in Naypyitaw when security guards spotted them.
On Monday, a court in Naypyitaw denied a defense request to have the import charge dropped. The court, however, added an unexpected new charge against the two journalists under Myanmar’s Immigration Act for allegedly conducting illegal activities inside the country. The charge is punishable by six months to five years in prison.
“There should be only one charge,” said Khin Maung Zaw, the lawyer for the interpreter and the driver. “The court has been charging them under different charges that all started by flying the drone and it could disadvantage the accused journalists even more.”
The next court date in the case was set for Dec. 4.
Khin Maung Zaw said earlier this month that Aung Naing Soe, the interpreter, and Hla Tin, the driver, should have been freed because they didn’t own or operate the drone.
The Committee to Protect Journalists, or CPJ, urged Myanmar officials to drop the charges against the journalists immediately, saying the country has no clear legislation or guidance for journalists for what’s allowed or forbidden.
“Reporters should never be jailed for their reporting activities, particularly in a country that makes pretensions of being a democracy,” said Shawn Crispin, CPJ’s Southeast Asia representative.
Myanmar elected a new civilian government in 2015 that is led by the Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who spent 15 years under house arrest during the nation’s long era of military rule. Many rights groups say Suu Kyi’s administration continues to use outdated laws to threaten and imprison journalists.