Police in Phnom Penh’s Daun Penh district on Monday arrested two Chinese nationals who allegedly flew a drone over the Royal Palace area.
A police report identified them as Chen Yong, 51, and Wu Mingqing, 43, both tourists.
Captain Thun Kao Ny, the district’s Chey Chumneah commune police chief, yesterday said the men were detained at about 5.45pm on Monday outside the palace.
“Our police questioned them and decided to hand them over to the Interior Ministry’s anti-cybercrime Department for legal action,” he said. “Both men claimed they used the drone to capture views of the Royal Palace and were not aware of a ban.”
Cap Kao Ny said that after the arrests, police deleted all images and videos filmed by the drone.
Major General Siv Chhoann, deputy director of the ministry’s anti-cybercrime department, yesterday said police decided to release the two men but confiscated their drone and two cameras for further investigation.
“Because they hold tourist visas, we did not detain them but allowed them to stay at their hotel after making sure that they will appear for questioning if we ask them to do so,” he said. “We also asked them to sign a contract and kept their passports.”
In July, the National Police began drafting a sub-decree on the use of unmanned aircraft systems, also referred to as drones, to protect national security and regulate the use of drones. The sub-decree will also include the form of punishment for offences.
According to Cap Kao Ny, more than 10 foreign tourists were arrested last year for using drones to film in prohibited areas such as the Independence Monument, Prime Minister’s residence, and the Royal Palace.
In 2016, City Hall issued a ban on flying drones without a permit after a German tourist flew one over the Royal Palace and it was spotted by Queen Mother Norodom Monineath as she performed her daily exercise routine.
In 2018, Australian journalist James Ricketson was sentenced to six years in prison after he was found guilty of espionage for operating a drone to film a CNRP rally in June 2017 without authorisation.
The prosecution argued Ricketson was collecting information considered prejudicial to the national defence.
Ricketson’s arrest, detention and convictions were decried by rights groups and shortly after his sentencing, his legal team opted to drop the appeal process to seek a royal pardon.
Prime Minister Hun Sen then asked King Norodom Sihamoni for a pardon, which was granted in September 2018.
Ricketson had been placed in pre-trial detention for more than one year.