Myanmar police arrested Yangon-based photographer Aung Naing Soe, along with two foreign journalists and a driver, while the team was flying a drone near the parliament compound in Naypyidaw on Friday. The four have been charged for importing “restricted or banned goods” without a license, which is punishable by up to three years in prison or a fine.
They will be held on remand until November 10.
Journalists Lau Hon Meng from Singapore and Mok Choy Lin from Malaysia hired Aung Naing Soe as an interpreter while working on a report for Turkish state broadcaster TRT. They were questioned at a police station in Naypyidaw after being arrested on Friday morning, and their respected embassies have been alerted of their detention. Both had journalist visas.
The Turkish government, including President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has been one of the fiercest critics of Myanmar’s mass displacement of Rohingya Muslims, referring to the situation as a “genocide.”
On Friday evening, around 25 police and local officials raided Aung Naing Soe’s home without a warrant and seized his computer and memory devices. His mother told Reuters that the police tried and failed to gain access to his computer.
Aung Naing Soe is known for his captivating photography and for his coverage of issues affecting Myanmar’s Muslim communities, including the Rohingya. His work has appeared in several international outlets, including Coconuts Yangon, where he was on staff from 2015 to 2016.
Though Aung Naing Soe’s work and his religious background have made him a target for harassment by nationalist groups in Myanmar, he has gained a reputation for his commitment to shining light on the country’s complexities.
“Aung Naing Soe is a hardworking journalist with impeccable credentials who has helped countless reporters cover Myanmar’s transition to democracy. I hope authorities realize he was simply trying to do his job and release him, the driver he worked with, and the two foreign journalists who hired him soon,” said Joe Freeman, a freelance journalist and friend who helped launch Coconuts Yangon in 2015.
In February, Aung Naing Soe penned a moving essay about his relationship with the reformist lawyer U Ko Ni, who was assassinated at the Yangon airport the previous month. He wrote: “He worked on sensitive issues… At a time when the Muslim community had no official representation in parliament, he didn’t forget them and remained an advocate for their rights.”
Several journalists have been arrested in Myanmar this year and charged for defamation or for affiliating with “unlawful” organizations, calling into question the sincerity of press freedoms introduced at the end of direct military rule in 2011.
Earlier this month, a foreign tourist in Yangon had his US$1,400 drone permanently confiscated by security staff at Shwedagon Pagoda. He was not detained.
Check out some of Aung Naing Soe’s work here: