BANGKOK (AP) — A U.S. photojournalist arrested in Thailand for possessing a bulletproof vest and helmet expressed relief Tuesday after a court granted him permission to leave the country until a Sept. 17 bail renewal hearing.
Hok Chun Anthony Kwan was detained at Bangkok's international airport on Aug. 23 when the equipment was discovered in his baggage as he was about to leave Thailand. He had been working for Hong Kong-based Initium Media and covering the aftermath of an Aug. 17 bombing in Bangkok that killed 20 people. Two Hong Kong citizens were killed in the attack.
Kwan, from Minneapolis, Minnesota, said in a text message Tuesday that his legal ordeal had affected his work and caused trouble for his colleagues. He did not say if he plans to leave Thailand.
Under Thai law, a license is needed to possess body armor, which is treated as a weapon. Violating the law carries a prison sentence of up to five years. The law has rarely if ever been enforced on journalists who covered 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. However, freelance foreign journalists have complained that it is difficult to get a license that would allow them to import such equipment.
Foreign journalists have expressed strong sympathy for Kwan's situation.
The Hong Kong Press Photographers Association, Journalists Association, and Foreign Correspondents Club expressed regret Monday that the charges were not dropped against Kwan. They said in a joint statement that it was reasonable and standard practice to use protective equipment in a potentially dangerous situation.
The Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand, noting that two foreign journalists died in Bangkok from gunfire during political unrest in 2010, implored Thai authorities to address the issue raised by Kwan's arrest, "so that journalists can purchase, import, and carry adequate protective equipment."
Manop Thiposod, vice president and spokesman of the Thai Journalists Association, said police and the military are willing to allow the use of flak jackets by journalists during violent situations. He said Thai journalists did not consider it necessary to use body armor in covering the aftermath of the Aug. 17 bombing, and that he expected Kwan to be released because he did not intend to violate the law.
"Journalists' rights should not violate a country's laws," he told The Associated Press by phone. "Carrying a flak jacket in your carry-on violates not only Thai laws but also the (regulations of) the airport authorities."
Associated Press writers Nattasuda Anusonadisai and Penny Yi Wang contributed to this report.