The Hong Kong government is failing to improve conditions in police cells for those who are in custody, breaching a United Nations convention against torture and punishment, an influential NGO has said.

The Society for Community Organisation (SoCO) made the comments during a press conference on Friday, one month after the UN’s Committee Against Torture published a list of issues that concerned degrading or humiliating treatment of detainees in police custody.

The list of issues – which SoCo referred to as UN “exam questions” – were published on June 15.

police custody detention
Members of the Society for Community Organization (SoCO) tell journalists the Hong Kong government have failed to improve conditions for detainees in police custody. Photo: SoCO.

SoCO said that in the last three months they had received 39 individual complaints from detainees including:

  • Being forced to sleep on a concrete bench with only a blanket and no pillow or mattress.
  • Being forced to sleep in dirty cells with no air conditioning, heating or windows.
  • Not being allowed to shower or wash their hands after using the toilet or before meals.
  • Having requests for medical attention denied by police. SoCO said that, of all of the complaints, 13 people requested to see a doctor but only two were allowed to.

The government is expected to provide both a written submission and appear at an oral hearing in Geneva at the end of this year to update the UN on what measures they have taken to address the list of grievances.

SoCO said the government would likely “fail” the UN exam because very little had been done since they raised the issue of police cell conditions in 2009.

A statement released by the organisation said: “The conditions are still not only below international standards, but amount to infringements of human rights of detained persons.”

In addition to this, SoCO also published a list “exam tips” or recommendations on how to improve police cell conditions. The list included providing better cells with ventilation, clean bedding, natural light, and also allowing detainees to use a shower.

The list also called upon the government to introduce an independent monitoring system for inspecting the conditions of holding cells.

Last month, the UN Committee Against Torture raised concerns over the handling of victims of trafficking, the treatment of refugees seeking asylum in Hong Kong and the use of pepper spray and tear gas during the 2014 pro-democracy Occupy protests.

Vicky is a British-born Chinese journalist with three years of experience covering UK politics. She previously worked for PoliticsHome and has interned at Sky News and CNN International. She also co-produced and filmed a documentary about the Hong Kong protests for MSNBC, which won the grand student prize at the 2015 Human Rights Press Awards. She has a BA in Politics and International Relations from the University of Reading and moved to Hong Kong in 2014 to complete a journalism masters at the University of Hong Kong.