The Thai government’s official explanation for arresting and trying Hok Chun “Anthony” Kwan — a young former University of Minnesota photojournalist — is that he violated the nation’s strict weapons laws.
Kwan’s “weapons” of choice? A bulletproof vest and a helmet for personal protection as he covered a nation shaken by a deadly Aug. 17 terrorist bombing and still finding its way after a military coup last year. For carrying these sensible safeguards, which other journalists have brought into the country previously without issue, Kwan could potentially serve five years in prison.
He is now facing trial in Thailand, a situation that defies common sense and tarnishes the global reputation of the new regime already facing doubts about its legitimacy and human rights record. The military officials in power should swiftly remedy this mistake by dropping the charges.
Doing so would demonstrate mature leadership at the Southeast Asian country’s helm. It would also strongly signal to the millions of tourists who visit each year that arbitrary enforcement of this law or other laws will not leave them stranded in a Thai prison.
Tourism revenue is vital to Thailand’s economy. After the bombing and the travel chaos caused by the coup, no further doubts about this cultural and beach destination are needed.
Kwan was an engineering student at the U when he began working as a photographer at the campus newspaper in 2011, according to the Associated Press. Now an employee of Hong Kong-based Initium Media Group, he was arrested in late August and is now free on bail.
Kwan reportedly said he did not know that his protective gear violated Thailand’s Arms Control Act. Should he have been aware of this? Yes. But again, these items had previously been used by reporters without problems.
Carrying them was sensible. Thai officials’ sudden decision to enforce the law was not. Instead, Kwan’s legal problems suggest the new regime doesn’t want coverage of what’s happening inside the country. That should heighten global concerns about this military junta and what it wants to hide.