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Hong Kong photojournalist charged by Thai government for carrying safety vest

This statement was originally published on ifj.org on 12 October 2015.

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) joins its affiliate the Hong Kong Journalists' Association (HKJA) in condemning the charges brought upon Hong Kong photojournalist, Anthony Kwan Hok-Chun by the Thai government on October 12, 2015. The IFJ and HKJA demand the charges against Kwan be immediately dropped.

On August 23, Anthony Kwan Hok-Chun, a Hong Kong-Canadian photojournalist, was arrested at Suvarnabhumi airport in Bangkok as he was about to board his flight to Hong Kong. Kwan, who was in Thailand for Initium Media Technology, a new Hong Kong-based online media company covering the aftermath of the Erawan Shrine explosion, was arrested under the Thai Arms Control Act for carrying an illegal weapon, which was a bullet-proof vest. Initial reports said that he would be tried in a military court, however this was quickly changed and he faced a civilian court near Suvarnabhumi airport and was released on bail.

Following the arrest, the IFJ wrote to the Thai Prime Minister, General Prayuth Chan-o-cha, calling on him to immediately withdraw the charges against Kwan.

According to Annie Zhang, the executive chief editor of Initium, Thai authorities charged Kwan on October 12 when he returned to court. Zhang said that Initium were surprised by the charges, given that the equipment in his possession was Initium's and management has insisted on Kwan carrying it for his safety. She also said that Kwan and Initium were unaware of the restrictions for carrying safety equipment in Thailand.

In a statement with the Hong Kong Press Photographers Association and The Foreign Correspondents' Club, Hong Kong, HKJA said: "We are dismayed by the apparent decision to go ahead with the prosecution of Anthony Kwan Hok Chun, who was assigned by Initium Media Technology to cover the aftermath of the Erawan shrine bombing on 17 August in which two Hong Kong residents were killed and six injured. We urge Thai authorities to drop the criminal case against Mr Kwan. We also strongly urge them to work with the news media in Thailand to decriminalise the legitimate use of body armour and related protective items. We also urge the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government to push for the quashing of any charges against Kwan."

The IFJ said "We condemn the charges against Anthony Kwan, who was simply carrying the equipment for his own personal safety. The IFJ supports and advocates the rights of journalists to safe and secure working conditions, including the right to protect themselves adequately in the field. The IFJ maintains that withholding the right to safety equipment from media personnel such as bullet-proof vests and helmets is a violation of the Thai Constitution which commits to the protection of human rights."

The IFJ respectfully calls on Prime Minister General Prayuth Chan-o-cha to use your position of influence to immediately have all charges against Anthony Kwan withdrawn and let him return to Hong Kong.

On October 12, the IFJ, HKJA, Hong Kong Photographers' Association and the Foreign Correspondent's Club of Hong Kong held a protest at the Thai Embassy in Hong Kong calling for the charges against Kwan to be dropped immediately.

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