Two weeks ago Hok Chun “Anthony” Kwan, a former journalism student at the University of Minnesota, tried to hop a flight out of Bangkok. The Hong Kong-based photographer was heading home after covering the fallout from a bombing that rocked Thailand and left at least 20 dead. But authorities stopped him long before he could get his complimentary peanuts.
Kwan’s crime? Carrying a bulletproof vest — safety gear apparently reserved for Thai cops and military personnel, but not journalists reporting from potentially dangerous areas.
The pro picture taker was arrested at Suvarnabhumi Airport for having an “illegal weapon,” punishable by up to five years in the slammer. Kwan has been out on bail, but was not allowed to leave the country.
However on Monday, Kwan’s lawyer told the South China Morning Post that his passport has been returned and that he’s free to leave the country, provided he returns for a September 17 court date. The attorney, Sirikan Charoensiri, had argued that without his passport the international photojournalist was unable to do his job.
In an interview, Kwan told the English-language newspaper he wasn’t sure when he would return to Hong Kong.
“The case is still under investigation, and I don’t really know what’s going to happen next, but I’m grateful that I’ve got my passport back and I can temporarily go home,” he said.
“I’m not planning [to return to Hong Kong yet], I’m just waiting for the paperwork — one step at a time as I try and figure everything out … But of course, I want to come home.”
During his stint at the U of M, Kwan worked for student newspaper the Minnesota Daily. Friends and colleagues launched FreeKwan.org to raise awareness of his hairy legal situation, which has been condemned by international journalist protection groups.
While in Thailand, Kwan was on assignment for Hong Kong-based Initium Media Technology.