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Thai Government Drops Charges Against Journalist For Carrying Bulletproof Vest, Helmet

The Thai government has withdrawn charges against Hong Kong-based photojournalist Hok Chun Anthony Kwan, who was arrested in 2015 for bringing body armor into Thailand while on assignment, according to the Associated Press and one of Kwan’s friends.

The case against Kwan, 30, ended on Jan. 29 after he accepted the government’s decision a month earlier to drop the charges, the AP reported. In Thailand, a license is necessary to possess bulletproof vests and helmets, which are considered weapons under Thai law, according to the country's Arms Control Act of 1987.

The news, confirmed to NBC News by Kwan's friend Mark Vancleave, drew praise from the Asian American Journalists Association (AAJA), of which Kwan was a member while attending college at the University of Minnesota.

Anthony Kwan
Anthony Kwan, a Hong Kong-based photojournalist, was arrested in August 2015 on charges of violating Thai law for possessing a bulletproof vest and helmet. Courtesy of freekwan.org

“Freedom of the press and the safety of journalists are essential parts of an open and informed society,” AAJA President Paul Cheung told NBC News in an email. “No journalists should ever be subjected to this type of treatment."

Kwan was detained last August while trying to board a plane back to Hong Kong, where he works for Initium Media. He had been photographing the Aug. 17 bombing of a Bangkok shrine that killed 22 people and was carrying body armor and a helmet when Thai police arrested him.

RELATED: Journalist on Trial for Possession of Bulletproof Vest, Helmet in Thailand

It was unclear why the Thai government reversed its decision to prosecute Kwan, who has citizenship in both Canada and Hong Kong. An email sent to the Thai government Tuesday evening by NBC News was not returned. Attempts to reach Kwan for comment were also unsuccessful.

Image: Hong Kong journalist arrested over body armour in Thailand
Hong Kong-based photojournalist Anthony Kwan (L) walks next to his Thai lawyer (R) at Samut Prakan provincial court, on the outskirts of Bangkok, Thailand, 16 November 2015. NARONG SANGNAK / EPA

Many media outlets require journalists to wear protective gear while reporting in areas prone to violence. Kwan’s arrest had drawn sharp criticism from journalist groups around the world, including AAJA.

If Kwan had been tried and convicted, he could have faced up to five years in prison.

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