Story highlights

  • Reporter is second journalist arrested in two years for carrying protective gear in Thailand
  • Bulletproof body armor is classified as military equipment under a 1987 law

(CNN)A British journalist is facing up to five years in prison in Thailand after being found in possession of body armor and other protective gear.

Tony Cheng, a freelance correspondent for Chinese state broadcaster CGTN, told CNN he was charged Monday night with possessing “war weapons” after being stopped with German colleague Florian Witulski at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport.

Cheng had a gas mask and body armor in his check-in luggage. Both items are classified as restricted military equipment under Thailand’s 1987 Arms Control Act.

“A customs office informed us they found items which looked like military weapons,” police Lt. Col. Somchart Maneerat told CNN. “(In searching Cheng’s luggage) we found plates, which can be used in flak jackets. And flak jackets and their parts are classified as military weapons.”

Cheng was released after 15 hours in detention, and his wife paid 100,000 baht ($3,000) in bail, the police official said. He also had to surrender his passport.

If convicted, Cheng faces up to five years in prison and a fine of 50,000 baht ($1,500).

In a statement, the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand condemned the arrest, saying the British reporter “posed no conceivable threat to national security.”

The correspondents’ club said it had offered to work with the Thai government to carve out exceptions for when journalists working in conflict zones might be able to carry restricted protective equipment.

Two foreign reporters — Japanese cameraman Hiro Muramoto and Italian photojournalist Fabio Polenghi — were killed while covering violence in Thailand in 2010. The correspondents’ club pointed out that both were shot and “might have survived had they been wearing body armor.”