Cheers and shouts of joy erupted as Singaporean cameraman Lau Hon Meng walked out of the Changi Airport Terminal 2 transit area.
The 43-year-old, together with Malaysian documentary producer Mok Choy Lin, arrived home on Friday (Dec 29) evening from Yangon, where they had spent two months in a Myanmar prison. They had flouted a colonial-era aircraft law by filming with a drone.
About 40 of Lau’s friends from Adam Road Presbyterian Church were waiting with a bright blue banner that read: “Praise the Lord, welcome home Lau.”
Tearful hugs and embraces were exchanged as friends welcomed Mr Lau home – just in time for the New Year.
“I’m so happy to be home, I just want to praise God because he made it all possible,” Lau told The Straits Times.
Said pastor Chris Chia, 58: “It’s a great delight to have him back … He’s had a very difficult time.”
Mok, 47, a Singapore permanent resident, left the airport without speaking to the media.
She and Lau were detained on Oct 27 in Myanmar’s capital Naypyitaw and subsequently sentenced to two months in jail.
Myanmar journalist Aung Naing Soe, who acted as their interpreter, and their driver Hla Tin were also convicted. The four – who were supposed to be jailed until Jan 9 – also faced pending Customs and immigration charges.
But the Myanmar authorities dropped the charges on Thursday and told the four that they would be released early.
Defence lawyer Khin Maung Zaw told The Straits Times over the phone: “They were released at 7am, and the two foreign journalists were escorted by immigration officers to (Yangon) airport.”
A Myanmar police official told Reuters on Tuesday that the charges were being dropped because the four did not mean to endanger national security and that the country wanted to improve relations with Singapore and Malaysia.
They were detained while on assignment producing a documentary for Turkey’s state broadcaster Turkish Radio and Television Corporation (TRT).
After their first conviction on Nov 10, they were sent to Yamethin prison in central Myanmar.
TRT’s English-language unit, TRT World, said Mr Lau and Ms Mok entered Myanmar on journalist visas and had “shot in various locations with conventional cameras as well as with a drone, up until Oct 27”.
Their detention raised concerns over press freedom in Myanmar, where a civilian government led Aung San Suu Kyi took power last year. The military retains control of security matters, including the police.
At least 11 reporters have been arrested in the country this year, reported Agence France-Presse.
While Myanmar has no specific law on drones, individual authorities have tried to restrict their use over their premises.
Drones have been used by photographers and also by the authorities to gather meteorological data and conduct structural checks on bridges.
Lau is a freelance cameraman, while Mok is a veteran in Singapore broadcasting, having produced, written and directed shows such as Under One Roof and Phua Chu Kang. She was at one time Channel News Asia’s vice-president of international production.
She has also worked for the National Geographic Channel as its director of regional production. – The Straits Times/Asia News Network