UK journo faces jail for carrying protective gear to Iraq
A British journalist faces up to five years in a Thai jail after he was arrested for carrying a gas mask and plates for a bullet-proof vest through the main airport here on his way to cover fighting in the Iraqi city of Mosul, police confirmed yesterday.
Tony Cheng, who works for Chinese state broadcaster CCTV, was detained at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport on Monday night under a law that has been heavily criticised by media groups.
Gas masks and ballistic vests, which are frequently used by reporters around the world, are classified as war weapons in Thailand and require a licence.
Violating the 1987 law is punishable by up to five years in jail.
“A British national was arrested and charged with illegal possession of war weapons last night at the airport,” Suvarnabhumi airport policeman Somchart Maneerat said yesterday.
Cheng, who is married to a Thai national, and German colleague Florian Witulski were on their way to report from the wartorn Iraqi city of Mosul where troops are battling the Islamic State 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 IS 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.