A Hong Kong woman arrested during a protest has accused a female officer of conducting an unreasonable full strip search without gloves, and of using a pen to force her to spread her legs. The incident was described as a “metoo” sexual assault case at a press conference on Friday.

The protester, who gave the pseudonym Ms Lui, was arrested at a protest several weeks ago. She was hospitalised shortly afterwards owing to injuries sustained at the protest. Charges were laid against her two days after the arrest, but she could not attend a police station because of her injuries.

After a few days, Lui was discharged from hospital, where officers checked clothes that her family had delivered to her. Officers were present as Lui changed her clothes.

Ms Lui
Ms Lui. Photo: inmediahk.net.

When Lui left the hospital, she said she was not sent to court, but to a nearby police station instead. There, she was ordered into a room with two female officers who Liu said bore the ID numbers 26522 and 55827 on their shoulders.

One officer ordered her to remove all of her clothes including her underwear, Lui said. When she asked for the reason, and the officer said: “Because you violated the law, you have to be strip-searched.”

Lui said she was scared and complied. She said she tried to cover her private parts with her hands, but an officer used a pen to hit her hand. The officer prompted her to open her legs by tapping her inner thighs using the pen.

She was also told to crouch and stand up three times, but she could not do so because of her injury. The officer then told her to turn around: “When I turned, I saw the other officer starring at me with pleasure,” she said.

An officer then asked to examine her clothes. The officer did so without wearing gloves, Lui said.

Ms Lui abuse
Photo: RTHK screenshot.

Lui dressed herself and opened the door to leave, and found that more than 10 male officers were outside.

“I was very embarrassed, I really wanted to cry. But I hold my fist tight and told myself I cannot cry in front of them, because I knew that I would lose if I cried,” she said. “I want to ask the police: Is it the case that, when we are arrested, we lose all our basic human rights, and we lose the basic respect for women?” she added.

Lui said she was depressed after the incident and – after being bailed – was afraid to go out in public, fearing the police.

She thanked Civic Party lawmaker Tanya Chan and her lawyers Olga Choi and Benson Chan, who helped her and were present at the press conference.

“They told me that I did not do anything wrong. They told me it was not wrong to speak up for justice,” she said.

Benson Chan
Benson Chan. Photo: inmediahk.net.

Benson Chan said that Lui’s case did not involve any drugs or banned items on her body. He said the search was unreasonable.

“If the police had already confirmed the charges to be laid against her, shouldn’t the search be done before [she was hospitalised]?” he said.

Chan said the officers should have worn gloves, if they truly believed they would find drugs or banned items on her body.

He said Lui was asked to sign a document agreeing to the search, only after it was conducted, but Lui refused.

“The only conclusion is that it was an abuse,” he said.

He said the officers may have committed indecent assault, conspiracy to indecent assault and conspiracy to assault.

Suzette Foo
Suzette Foo.

Body searches ‘necessary’

When asked about the case at a regular police press conference on Friday, Senior Superintendent (Operations) of Kowloon East Suzette Foo said she understood that body searches may be uncomfortable and embarrassing: “But I want the public to understand that a body search is necessary and the police have our own considerations. Police have strict guidelines over body searches.”

Asked if gloves are required for body searches, Foo said it would be decided by the officers involved.

Foo said the police only just heard about the case and did not have relevant information immediately available. She said the force will follow up seriously with regards to the incident, as Lui’s lawyers have said they will file a complaint.

Hong Kong Free Press relies on direct reader support. Help safeguard independent journalism and press freedom as we invest more in freelancers, overtime, safety gear & insurance during this summer’s protests. 10 ways to support us.

fundraising fundraise banner

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.