Hong Kong photographer detained over bulletproof jacket allowed to leave Thailand

Hong Kong photojournalist Anthony Kwan Hok-chun (centre) walks with lawyers as they arrive at Samutprakarn provincial court on Sept 7, 2015.
Hong Kong photojournalist Anthony Kwan Hok-chun (centre) walks with lawyers as they arrive at Samutprakarn provincial court on Sept 7, 2015. PHOTO: AFP

BANGKOK (AFP) - A Thai court on Monday (Sept 7) said a Hong Kong photographer detained for carrying a bulletproof jacket and helmet was free to leave the country, although he could still face five years in jail on a weapons charge.

Anthony Kwan Hok Chun, who works for the Hong Kong-based Initium media group, was held by police on Aug 23 after trying to depart Suvarnabhumi airport.

He had been in the country to cover the aftermath of the deadly Bangkok shrine bomb and had packed the personal protection equipment as a precaution for the assignment.

He was arrested as he tried to leave the country for having a flak jacket and a helmet in his hand luggage and was bailed nearly two days later and forbidden from leaving the country.

Both items are classified as weapons under Thai law and Kwan was charged with breaching the country's Arms Control Act.

At a bail hearing at Samut Prakhan provincial court on Monday morning, the photojournalist was returned his passport and told he could leave, Kwan and his lawyer told AFP.

However the charge remains in place and he must return for a further bail hearing on Sept 17.

"I got my passport back, still waiting for the paperwork," Kwan told AFP in a text message after the hearing.

Asked whether he would leave Thailand he replied: "No plan as of now. Need to discuss with my lawyer and company."

Sirikan Charoensiri, his lawyer, confirmed the court's decision.

Thailand's classification of common protection equipment as a weapon that needs to be licensed has been criticised by media groups, who say such precautions are vital in a country where political violence routinely spills onto the streets.

Attempts by media groups over the years to seek permission from authorities to carry such items have fallen on deaf ears despite the country's long history of deadly street protests and a festering insurgency in the deep south.