Former U student faces charges abroad

Anthony Kwan was arrested in Thailand in August for carrying a bulletproof vest.

Nick Wicker

A photojournalist and former Minnesota Daily photographer could face up to five years in prison for carrying a bulletproof vest and helmet in Thailand. 
 
Thai authorities told Hok Chun “Anthony” Kwan he would face a formal trial for weapons possession after he plead not guilty to the charges Monday. A pre-trial date is set for Nov. 16, and the trial will follow sometime in 2016. 
 
Thailand’s 1987 Arms Control Act prohibits the ownership of body armor without a special permit. 
 
Kwan was returning to Hong Kong after covering a Bangkok bombing that killed 20 people when airport officials found the bulletproof protective vest in his luggage. Thai police arrested him Aug. 23 at the Suvarnabhumi Airport. 
 
The Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand said in a statement, “Mr. Kwan brought in body armour and a helmet, as have many other journalists in Thailand, solely for his personal safety. Such equipment used by journalists should not be regarded as offensive weapons.”
 
The FCCT requested the Thai government consult both domestic and foreign media community to explore a way around the law, the statement said. 
 
Kwan was not allowed to leave the country until Sept. 17. Since then, according to freekwan.org co-founder Mike Mullen, Kwan has flown back and forth between home and Bangkok to prepare for his hearing while continuing to photograph for his employer, Hong Kong-based Initium Media.
 
Mark Vancleave — who worked with Kwan for two years at the Minnesota Daily — called the Thai court’s decision to try Kwan unfortunate, adding that he believes the government should have resolved the issue by acquitting Kwan.
 
He said he has remained close with Kwan since they graduated in 2013, and that he and other Daily alumni have been paying close attention to Kwan’s situation.
 
“Anthony is not a criminal. He did not intentionally violate any laws,” he said. “He’s a working journalist, and he’s not out to hurt anyone.”
 
Mullen, also a Minnesota Daily alumnus, said he and other former co-workers are struggling to understand why the Thai government is pressing charges.
 
“It’s very discouraging that they would go forward like this, and now I really don’t know what they want out of it,” Mullen said. “In these situations … sometimes it’s all about embarrassment for the government.” 
 
Vancleave said the Thai government has a history of prosecuting journalists, especially those who criticize the Thai monarchy. 
 
However, Kwan’s case is unique because he is a foreign correspondent and not a Thai journalist, he said.
 
“From our Western standards this is extremely harsh,” Vancleave said. “It’s not a country that believes in freedom of the press or the rights of journalists to do their jobs.”