FCCT statement on journalists and body armour
The professional membership of the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand is deeply unhappy with the decision of the Thai authorities to file criminal charges against a British journalist for carrying personal body armour and a gas mask in his check-in luggage.
Tony Cheng was detained and subsequently arrested at Suvarnabhumi International Airport last night as he prepared to board a flight to Iraq. He was on assignment for the Chinese state broadcaster China Global TV News (CGTN), formerly CCTV. He has already covered the battle for Mosul this year, where body armour is indispensable
Cheng was this afternoon charged under the 1987 Arms Control Act, which categorises gas masks and body armour as restricted military equipment. If convicted, he faces up to five years in prison.
It should be noted that Cheng was leaving the country at the time of his arrest, and intended to use the banned safety equipment outside Thailand. He therefore posed no conceivable threat to national security.
The FCCT has on a number of occasions offered to work with the Thai government to find a way whereby journalists and others (particularly medical personnel) who may be required to work in conflict zones can carry personal protective equipment. The club sought a solution to this problem as a matter of urgency after a photojournalist from Hong Kong was detained and charged in August 2015 for trying to carry body armour through a Thai airport. After a time-consuming and expensive legal process, charges were eventually dropped in that case.
Some journalists based in Thailand have to cover armed conflicts in other countries, and are required by their employers and insurers to travel with adequate protective equipment. Under the present implementation of the 1987 law, they are presented with an invidious choice: break Thai law or increase the risk to life and limb. It is worth recalling that two foreign journalists were killed in the violence in Bangkok in 2010; both might have survived had they been wearing body armour.
The FCCT urges the Thai authorities to drop the charges against Tony Cheng, and to find a way going forward whereby journalists are able to carry the equipment they need to protect themselves.
The FCCT stands ready to assist in resolving this divisive issue.
Press Freedom Committee
Wednesday, 31 May 2017