BANGKOK (AP) — The Thai government has dropped a case against a Hong Kong photojournalist who was arrested last year for possessing a bulletproof vest and a helmet, which are considered weapons in Thailand, two court officials said Tuesday.
The government filed for withdrawing the charges against Hok Chun Anthony Kwan on Dec. 30, 2015, in the Samut Prakan provincial court where he was on trial, the court's officials told The Associated Press.
Kwan accepted the government stance and the court ended the case on Jan. 29, they said.
The officials cannot be identified under court protocol. It was not clear what prompted the change of heart in the government, which had faced criticism for punishing Kwan for possessing items that journalists routinely carry in dangerous situations.
Kwan, a dual national of Canada and Hong Kong, was detained when he was about to board a plane on Aug. 23 after covering the aftermath of a deadly bomb explosion at a shrine in Bangkok.
Kwan works for the Hong Kong-based Initium media group. He earlier worked on the Minnesota Daily newspaper while attending the University of Minnesota.
His lawyer, Pawinee Chumsri, said he pleaded not guilty to the charge of weapons possession after being indicted by the court. Pawinee confirmed on Tuesday that the case has been dropped. Kwan, who was freed on bail, was not immediately available for comment.
Under the Arms Control Act, a license is needed to possess body armor. Violations are punishable by up to five years in jail. The law has rarely if ever been enforced for journalists covering the country's sometimes-violent political turmoil over the past nine years. Many large news organizations require their staff to wear protective gear in dangerous situations.
In a statement Tuesday, the Foreign Correspondent of Thailand welcomed Thailand's decision. It also urged the government to find a way for journalists, "who need to work in dangerous areas, to be able to use appropriate protective equipment legally in Thailand."