French Tourist Could Face Prison for Flying Drone in Myanmar’s Capital – The New York Times

A French tourist who was arrested last week after allegedly flying a drone near Myanmar’s Parliament could face up to three years in prison under the country’s strict laws on unmanned aerial vehicles.

The Frenchman, Michel Desclaux, 27, could be charged with bringing a drone into the country illegally as well as flying one in a restricted area, said Min Tin, a police official in Myanmar’s capital, Naypyidaw. An image of Mr. Desclaux’s passport circulating in the Burmese news media gave his first name as Arthur.

Myanmar’s tough restrictions on drones have prompted complaints that visitors who want footage of scenic areas can easily find themselves in violation of the law. Drones are banned over many parts of the capital; in much of Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city; and near a palace in Mandalay.

They also cannot be flown near airports, over gatherings of people or on or near private property without permission.

Under the flight restrictions, Mr. Desclaux could face up to three months in prison. The law restricting the importing of drones carries a potential sentence of up to three years.

Some critics say the rules should be more widely advertised to visitors, who may be unaware of them.

“In some places in Myanmar, you can’t fly drones, but the country should have put up notices,” said Ye Tun Aung, who sells drones in Mandalay, adding that the country’s airports do not have sufficient warnings about the prohibition on bringing in drones.

A small sign on the gate to Myanmar’s Parliament where Mr. Desclaux was arrested explains that drones are banned there, but it is in the Burmese language, with only the word “drone” in English.

In 2017, two foreign journalists, a Burmese journalist and their driver were arrested while flying a drone in Naypyidaw. Their arrest was condemned by advocates of media freedom as an example of Myanmar’s government using criminal investigations to thwart critical news coverage.

The journalists had been working on a documentary for Turkish state television, shortly after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey had criticized the country’s military-led crackdown on the Rohingya minority as “genocide.”

The journalists — Mok Choy Lin, a reporter from Malaysia; Lau Hon Meng, a cameraman from Singapore; Ko Aung Naing Soe, a Myanmar journalist; and U Hla Tin, their driver — served two-month prison terms, but the authorities dropped plans to charge the two foreigners with an immigration violation and all four with import violations.

Drones have caused havoc for international travel in recent months. In December, more than 1,000 flights were canceled or diverted from Gatwick Airport near London after drones were reported near the runway. The police said they did not know who had flown the drone or drones in the area or why.

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