Hong Kong reporter charged for possessing illegal bullet-proof vest allowed to go overseas

The provincial court in central Thailand has allowed a reporter from Hong Kong charged with the violation the country’s Arm Control Act to go overseas.

According to the Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR), the Provincial Court of the central province of Samut Prakan on Monday, 7 September 2015, has returned a passport of Hok-chun Kwan, aka. Anthony, 29, a photojournalist based in Hong Kong, and allowed him to go overseas.

Kwan has been charged for violating Article 15 of Thailand’s 1987 Arms Control Act for possessing a bullet-proof vest that his news agency, Initium Media, gave him to cover aftermath of the Erawan Shrine bombing on 17 August 2015, which took 22 lives two of whom are young Hong-Kongese.

He was arrested on 23 August 2015 at Suvarnabhumi International Airport while he was about to return to Hong Kong.

On the afternoon of 24 August, Kwan was freed on bail, but his passport was confiscated and he was prohibited from leaving Thailand pending formal indictment on the case.

Pawinee Chumsri, his defense lawyer from TLHR, said he has been told to report to the court every 12 days until the prosecutor’s office decides whether or not to prosecute.

Kwan could be tried by a military court and could be jailed for five-years or fined for 50,000 bahts (about 1,385 USD) if found guilty.

Although Kwan is currently allowed to go abroad, he still has to come back to report to the court on 17 September 2015.

According to Reporters Without Borders, The situation of foreign journalists has been very precarious in Thailand since the military coup in 2014. They have reported finding it increasingly difficult to obtain or renew work visas and accreditation, while the Foreign Correspondent’s Club of Thailand has been the target of repeated pressure and intimidation by the junta.

“Media outlets and reporters were repeatedly targeted by both soldiers and demonstrators during the frequent clashes between the different political factions and the army before the May 2014 coup,” Reporters Without Borders added.

Hiroyuki Muramoto, 44, a Japanese cameraman working for Reuters, was shot dead during violent clashes between the army and deposed Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s “Red Shirt” supporters in Bangkok on 10 April 2010. Italian freelance photographer Fabio Polenghi, 45, was killed in similar circumstances on 19 May 2010. Neither was wearing a bullet-proof vest.