Hong Kong photojournalist detained at Bangkok airport for carrying bulletproof vest in luggage

People at the arrival hall at Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok, Thailand, on May 8, 2011. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

A Hong Kong photojournalist, on his way back from Thailand after covering the Aug 17 fatal blast in Bangkok, was held for attempting to bring a bulletproof vest onto a plane, reported the South China Morning Post (SCMP).

Mr Anthony Kwan Hok-chun was about to board Thai Airways Flight 602 to Hong on Sunday (Aug 23) at Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport, said the SCMP, when he was detained by the police. He was later granted bail, his lawyer Sirikarn Charoensiri told the Agence France-Presse.

The photographer - who had been with Initium Media for just four months, according to the SCMP - was carrying the vest in his hand luggage.

He is being charged with possessing an illegal weapon, according to the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Thailand (FCCT), adding that the trial will take place in a military court.

The offence carries a prison sentence of up to five years.

Under Thai law, a licence is needed for non-military use of bulletproof vests.

Speaking to the SCMP, Initium's executive chief editor Annie Zhang said the company was "very concerned" about Mr Kwan's detention, and had hired a lawyer in the Thai capital to assist him.

The Hong Kong Immigration Department told the SCMP that it had contacted Mr Kwan and advised him. It was also in contact with the Thai authorities and Chinese Embassy in Thailand, the SCMP reported.

Ms Sham Yee-lan, chairman of the Hong Kong Journalists Association, also spoke to the SCMP, asking why a journalist could be held for carrying a bulletproof vest, which is used for self-defence.

"It is very common for war journalists to carry one. It is definitely not a weapon," she told the SCMP. "There is no good reason for this arrest."

The FCCT, in a statement released on Monday, said it was "dismayed" to learn of Mr Kwan's detention.

"Body armour and helmets used by journalists are not offensive weapons and should not be treated as such... the use of body armour and helmets is routine by journalists around the world, and is clearly to enable them to do their jobs in dangerous situations," the statement said.

"Journalists based in Bangkok have openly worn body armour during the more recent political turmoil without any action being taken against them by the Thai authorities."

It also urged the Thai authorities not to press forward with the case against Mr Kwan.

Thailand has one of the highest gun homicide rates in Asia.

The GunPolicy.org website estimates 3.48 murders per 100,000 people in Thailand, three times the rate of Cambodia and on a par with the US.

According to the Interior Ministry, there are 6.1 million registered firearms in Thailand, a country with 67 million people.

Thailand has strict gun controls officially, but the law is easily circumnavigated, according to an Agence France-Presse report earlier this month.

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