BANGKOK – A Thai court on Monday decided to put a Hong Kong photojournalist on trial for possession of a bulletproof vest and a helmet, which are considered weapons in Thailand.
Hok Chun Anthony Kwan, from Minneapolis, Minnesota, was detained when he was about to board a plane on Aug. 23 after covering the aftermath of a deadly bomb explosion at a shrine in Bangkok. Kwan, a Hong Kong and Canadian citizen, works for the Hong Kong-based Initium media group.
His lawyer, Pawinee Chumsri, said he pleaded not guilty to the charge of weapons possession after being indicted by the court, which set a pre-trial hearing for Nov. 16. The trial will be held sometime in 2016, she said.
Pawinee said Kwan did not intend to violate Thai law. "Kwan believes he is not guilty. He only brought the jacket to protect himself," she said.
Under the Arms Control Act, a license is needed to possess body armor, which is considered a weapon. Violations are punishable by up to five years in jail. The law has rarely if ever been enforced for journalists covering the country's sometimes-violent political turmoil over the past nine years. Many large news organizations require their staff to wear protective gear in dangerous situations.
The Foreign Correspondents' Club of Thailand expressed disappointment over the filing of formal charges against Kwan.
"Instead of charging Mr. Kwan, the Thai authorities should consult with the media community in Thailand ... to explore a way around the 1987 law, which was surely not intended to prosecute journalists carrying out their normal duties," it said in a statement.
Pawinee said Kwan is free on bail and will travel back to Hong Kong on Tuesday.