Former U of M photographer faces trial in Thailand for having flak jacket

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Photographer Anthony Kwan, a former University of Minnesota student who was detained briefly in Thailand in August, will be put on trial for possession of a bulletproof vest and a helmet, which are considered weapons in that country.

Kwan entered a plea of not guilty in a Thai courtroom Monday, according to The Guardian.

Kwan was stopped at the international airport in the Thai capital of Bangkok on Aug. 23. He had been covering a bombing in central Bangkok that left 20 people dead, and authorities found body armor and a helmet in his carryon luggage before he boarded his flight to Hong Kong.

Kwan works for the Hong Kong-based Initium media group, according to the Guardian.

Thai law bans possession of military equipment without a license, but the BBC reports that journalists frequently use body armor and helmets when reporting in dangerous locations.

After the hearing, Kwan told reporters he will fight the charges.

“I’m not confessing," he said, according to the Guardian. "I don’t think that a flak jacket is a weapon and I definitely didn’t know it was illegal here."

Media organizations in Thailand expressed outrage at the government's decision to put Kwan on trial, saying journalists should not be punished for protecting their personal safety while working in dangerous areas, according to the Guardian.

The Foreign Correspondents' Club of Thailand issued a statement criticizing authorities for charging Kwan.

"The Thai authorities should consult with the media community ... to explore a way around the 1987 law, which was surely not intended to prosecute journalists carrying out their normal duties," the statement said.

The court set a pre-trial hearing for Nov. 16, and the trial will be held sometime in 2016, The Associated Press reports. Kwan is free on bail. The charge of carrying an illegal weapon has a maximum sentence of five years in prison.

Kwan moved to the United States in 2003 and joined The Minnesota Daily as a staff photographer in 2011. His work has been published by Minnesota Public Radio, American Public Media and the Associated Press.

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