Journalist facing jail sentence for carrying safety equipment

Journalist facing jail sentence for carrying safety equipment

British national faces a possible five-year jail sentence for carrying a gas mask and bulletproof vest plates through Thailand
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File photo of luggage being inspected in Bangkok airport (efe-epa)

A British journalist faces a possible five-year jail sentence in Thailand after being detained for carrying a gas mask and bullet-proof vests through Bangkok’s main airport on his way to cover clashes in Mosul, Iraq, according to police officials.

Tony Cheng, from Chinese state broadcaster CCTV was detained at Suvarnabhumi airport on Monday night for carrying items which are deemed war weapons in Thailand.

Violating the highly criticised law is punishable by up to five years behind bars.

Airport policeman, Somchar Maneerat said: “A British national was arrested and charged with illegal possession of war weapons last night at the airport.”

Cheng, who is married to a Thai national, and German colleague Florian Witulski were on their way to report from the war-torn Iraqi city of Mosul where troops are battling the Islamic State or Iraq and Levant (ISIL) group. 

The pair previously reported from Mosul in March.

Witulski was briefly detained alongside Cheng but was later released and has not been charged.

Late Monday Cheng posted a photo on Facebook of the airport detention cell where he was held overnight.

The plates and gas mask were “for use in Mosul where ISIS are well documented to be using gas,” he wrote.

“I was unaware either of those things were classified as 'war weapons.'”

Media groups have repeatedly criticised the Thai law and say journalists should not be punished for carrying body armour and protective gear in and out of dangerous zones.

Attempts over the years to amend the legislation have fallen on deaf ears, however the law was rarely enforced in Thailand until the military seized power three years ago.

“The issue has occurred quite a few times already, I am certain there will be review on this matter,” junta spokesman Major General Werachon Sukhonhapatipak said.

He added that journalists should inform authorities if they plan to travel with such equipment.

Yet media groups have previously said that would not protect reporters from the risk of prosecution.

In August 2015 a Hong Kong photographer was charged with violating the law for carrying a bullet-proof vest and helmet while covering a deadly bombing in Bangkok.

A Thai court later quietly dropped the case.

Source: AFP

All rights reserved, Doha Centre for Media Freedom 2017

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