YANGON (Reuters) - Turkey’s state broadcaster said a team of journalists filming a documentary in Myanmar had told the government of their plans before they were detained for attempting to fly a drone near the country’s parliament.
The journalists, Lau Hon Meng from Singapore and Mok Choy Lin from Malaysia, have been held since Friday in the capital Naypyitaw, along with their Myanmar interpreter Aung Naing Soe and driver Hla Tin.
Police have said they are investigating the four for bringing the drone into Myanmar in violation of an import-export rule that carries a penalty of up to three years in jail.
The two foreign nationals had obtained official journalist visas before they entered Myanmar on Oct. 21, TRT World, the English-language subsidiary of the Turkish Radio and Television Corporation, said in a statement late on Tuesday.
“They shot in various locations with conventional cameras as well as with a drone, up until October 27,” the broadcaster said. “The Myanmar Information Ministry was previously informed about all filming activities and the filming schedule.”
The broadcaster did not say if the reporters had specifically sought permission to operate a drone near the parliament building. They had interviewed a lawmaker and were about to film the parliament with a drone when they were detained, it said.
Myint Kyaw, an information ministry official in charge of journalist visas, told Reuters that TRT World had only made a broad request to the ministry to film in Yangon and the troubled western state of Rakhine.
“The letter they sent was not their schedule. They didn’t even mention in their letter about visiting Naypyitaw,” he said, adding that the letter did not mention a drone.
Last week’s arrests came amid tension between Turkey and Myanmar over treatment of the Muslim Rohingya minority in Rakhine. In early September, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said security operations targeting the Rohingya constituted “genocide”, a charge Myanmar denies.
More than 600,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled majority-Buddhist Myanmar for neighboring Bangladesh since security forces launched a counter-insurgency operation in response to Rohingya militants’ attacks on Aug. 25.
The families of the two Myanmar nationals and a lawyer hired on their behalf have not been allowed to visit them, family members and police said.
On Friday about 25 police raided the Yangon house of their interpreter Aung Naing Soe, a freelance reporter, seizing his computer memory sticks and searching documents.
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has called for the immediate and unconditional release of all four.
“These arrests and the raid of Aung Naing Soe’s home speak to the continuing deterioration of conditions for the press in Myanmar,” Shawn Crispin, CPJ’s senior Southeast Asia representative, said in a statement on Monday.
Reporting by Shoon Naing and Simon Lewis; Editing by Clarence Fernandez