Juvenile prisoners in Hong Kong have been forced to lick urine, pour boiling porridge over their heads and undergo up to seven hours of physical exercise per day, local media have reported.
Former prisoners at Sai Kung’s Pik Uk Correctional Institution told local newspaper Ming Pao that they were unable to complain against the prison officers, as the institution houses convicted juveniles waiting to be sentenced. They said they feared that making a complaint would lead officers to write negative reports on them to submit to the court, leading to a longer sentence.
A series of accusations were initially raised by former social worker Tsang Sing-cheung blogging on news outlet HK01 last month. Tsang cited former prisoners as saying that they were often beaten on the back and the soles of the feet by correctional services officers.
On Tuesday, Ming Pao published interviews with three former prisoners who claimed that they were forced to undergo up to seven hours of physical training every day, including three hours of squatting, which left them with knee injuries months after release.
Prisoners would sometimes be denied the opportunity to relieve themselves in the bathroom. One said he witnessed another being forced to lick his own urine off from the floor after he could not stop urinating.
As a practice, prisoners must place their bowls on top of their heads to prove that they have finished their meals. However, all three interviewees said they were sometimes asked to finish boiling porridge within one minute or even 10 seconds – some suffered burns to their heads as a result of turning filled bowls upside down.
The institution houses male juvenile offenders under the age of 21.
Patrick Poon, Hong Kong researcher for NGO Amnesty International, told HKFP that the allegations – if true – fall within the United Nations definition of torture.
“The term ‘torture’ means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as… punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed,” reads the UN Convention Against Torture.
The Correctional Services Department told Ming Pao that it took the allegations very seriously, and that it holds a zero-tolerance attitude towards violations of regulations by officers. The department said it would investigate all complaints, and added that prisoners could also report violations to other law enforcement agencies.
But the newspaper also cited social worker Tsang as claiming that it is difficult to prove allegations via an internal investigations, because medical workers are not always on the scene to immediately assess prisoners’ injuries.
Poon told HKFP that Hong Kong needed to conduct an independent investigation into the allegations, giving that the city is a party to the Convention Against Torture.
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Last year, the UN’s periodic report on Hong Kong claimed the government did not present the organisation with enough information on how it was training officers to investigate torture allegations.
“There is no way to make the public believe that [the Correctional Services Department] can conduct a fair investigation and can handle the complaints neutrally,” said Poon. “An independent investigation is the only option.”
“It’s indeed worrying,” he added regarding the seriousness of the allegations.