The Demosisto party’s Agnes Chow and three other activists have lodged a formal complaint to the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC), urging the police to respect the privacy rights of detainees and the dignity of women in detention.

The protesters were among 26 activists who staged a three-hour sit-in at Golden Bauhinia Square in defiance of Beijing on July 28. The activists were arrested and detained at North Point Police Station.

The female protesters complained about the presence of male officers patrolling the female detention cells, and the placement of toilets.

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Protesters and supporters (L-R): Petula Ho, Lily Wong, Prince Wong, Agnes Chow, Lee Ka-wing, Sammy Ip lodge a formal complaint at the EOC. Photo: HKFP/Jun Pang

“We think these kinds of things happening in the police station last month totally show a kind of disrespect to different kinds of genders,” Chow said. “We hope that the EOC will do something to improve the situation of people being arrested in the future.”

Chow said she asked a female police officer why male officers were patrolling the women’s cells. The officer responded: “‘He is only looking, patrolling,’” according to Chow.

She said they felt “disbelief” at the police officer’s response: “This is a measure that is really disrespectful to women. If, on the flip side, there was a female police officer patrolling the male detainment cell, it would be greatly disrespectful to the male detainees,” she said.

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Demosisto’s Agnes Chow holding a diagram of the detention cell. Photo: HKFP/Jun Pang

‘Problematic design’

Chow also described the design of the detainment cell as “problematic.”

“The gate and the squatting toilet are basically next to each other, it is basically possible for a passing policeman, whether male or female, to observe you while you use the toilet.”

Chow claimed that, on one occasion when she entered the bathroom, a female police officer did not allow her to close the gate. When Chow raised concerns, she quoted her as saying, “‘There are only women patrolling here, it doesn’t matter.’”

In response, on Wednesday, the complainants requested that police prohibit officers of the opposite sex from patrolling designated gendered detention cells.

In order to protect privacy, the complainants suggested redesigning the cells to increase the distance between the steel gate and toilet.

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EOC Chairperson Alfred Chan receiving the protesters’ requests. Photo: Demosisto/Facebook.

Chow handed a document containing the protesters’ requests to EOC Chairperson Alfred Chan, who promised to follow up. The equality watchdog also promised to give a preliminary response to the complainants within 14 days, according to InMedia.

Petula Ho, associate professor of social work at the University of Hong Kong, told HKFP: “[The EOC] has the responsibility to monitor all government departments, including the police.”

Ho urged the police and other government departments to review their policies to ensure the protection of women’s dignity and the rights of marginalised people.

“It’s not just about women. It’s about people of all genders [such as] transgender people. Why would anyone want to be seen going to the bathroom under the watch of policemen in the first place?” Ho said.

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Professor Petula Ho (L) and Demosisto’s Lily Wong (R). Photo: HKFP/Jun Pang

Chow said they did not have high expectations for the watchdog on the basis that it has “consistently shown that it may not be very effective or do much” for complainants.

Besides Chow, the other three protesters who filed a complaint on Wednesday were Demosisto’s Lily Wong, student activist Prince Wong, and League of Social Democrats’ Lee Ka-Wing.

Jun Pang is an independent writer and researcher. She has previously worked in NGOs advocating for refugees' and migrants' rights in Asia and Europe.