Thai officials drop charges against alum

Photojournalist Anthony Kwan was charged for possessing a bullet-proof vest in August.

Benjamin Farniok

Officials confirmed on Tuesday that the Thai government dropped its charges against photojournalist and University of Minnesota graduate Anthony Kwan. 
 
 
Kwan — a former Minnesota Daily photographer — was arrested in August for possession of a bulletproof vest and a helmet, both considered weapons that require a special permit under Thai law.
 
 
Kwan was arrested while boarding a flight to his home in Hong Kong. He’d been in Thailand to report on the bombing of a shrine that killed two people.
 
 
Mark Vancleave, a friend of Kwan’s, said the news is the best possible outcome of the arrest.
 
 
“I didn’t really know what to expect, and I think that was one of the difficult things for a lot of people following this because the system of government is such an opaque system,” he said.
 
 
Kwan’s friend and former Daily co-worker Mike Mullen said he was relieved to hear the charges were dropped.
 
Mullen said in his time as the Daily’s projects editor, he worked with Kwan on a number of long-form stories.
 
 
He said his work with Kwan led him to co-found freekwan.org, a website for gathering information and drawing coverage for Kwan. Once the story of Kwan’s arrest got out,
Mullen said he decided it was important to spread the word.
 
 
“If it’s getting out there, we wanted it to get everywhere,” he said.
 
 
Vancleave said he was unsure what effect the support of friends and coworkers had on the dropped charges, but added Kwan also gained support from human rights organizations. 
 
 
The Foreign Correspondents’ Club, Hong Kong, launched an online petition urging Thai officials to drop the charges. The petition garnered nearly 3,000 signatures.
 
 
The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand said in a statement that it “welcomes this decision by the Thai authorities, and renews its call to them to help find a way for journalists and others, like paramedics, who need to work in dangerous areas, to be able to use appropriate protective equipment legally in Thailand.”
 
 
The FCCT, Reporters Without Borders and others heavily criticized the Thai government, many claiming journalists need bodily protection when in conflict zones. 
 
 
Kwan was released on bail the week after his arrest but wasn’t allowed to leave Thailand and had to report to a court there every 12 days. 
 
 
Kwan got his passport back in September and was allowed back to Hong Kong, but he still needed to check in with the court every 12 days.
 
 
In October, Thai authorities officially charged him with carrying military weapons without permission. 
 
 
If convicted, Kwan would have faced up to five years in prison. 
 
 
Vancleave said Thailand has problems even given Kwan’s dropped charges, like its move to deter journalists from getting work visas in the country.
 
 
“It’s good for us, but I don’t know if it’s good for journalists still working in Thailand,” he said.
 
 
Mullen said he would advise journalists to avoid the country, but that advice might not always take.
 
 
“You can’t tell someone like [Kwan] that,” he said. “He is going to go wherever he can.” 
 
 
The Associated Press contributed to this report.