The head of the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) has said that around 20 students have reported unreasonable treatment by police after they were arrested during protests. He said he will urge Chief Executive Carrie Lam to order an independent investigation because of “mistrust” in existing complaint mechanisms.
CUHK Vice-Chancellor Rocky Tuan penned a 2,000-word open letter after a dialogue with students last week, where a student publicly accused the police of “sexual violence” when she was arrested and detained at a police station. After the session ended, Tuan stayed for another closed-door session to listen to students.
“I fully recognised that in the face of such unprecedented challenges to our community, the University might not have done enough for our students, even though we owe our responsibilities to many different stakeholders,” Tuan said. “Some of the students related their personal experiences while in police custody, and implored the University to take up the responsibility of the search for truth and fairness, to see to it that justice is done.”
Mass protests, now in their 19th week, have evolved from the movement’s original aim of opposing a proposed extradition agreement with China into a wider movement seeking democracy, among other demands. Though the bill is to be withdrawn, demonstrators are demanding a fully independent probe into police behaviour, amnesty for those arrested, universal suffrage and a halt to the characterisation of protests as “riots.”
Tuan said the university contacted each of the more than 30 students arrested to find out what they had gone through. Of those, around 20 said they had received unreasonable treatment of varying degrees of severity.
Access to lawyers
Tuan said most students reported that their requests for timely communication with their lawyers or families were refused. The students said they could only make their first and only phone call between a few hours and 78 hours after their arrest.
Some students were made to give statements without a lawyer, Tuan said. One student said his family had turned up at the police station where he was held, but they were not allowed to see him. He was not allowed a call or a meeting with his family in the station during his 48 hours of detention.
Some students said that they were not permitted to sleep or lie down to rest, Tuan said. Other students said they were not given the medication they needed, including a student with asthma who waited for six hours to be treated, Tuan added.
One student who had suffered a head injury was only sent to a hospital after 18 hours in detention, Tuan said. More than one student said they were slapped in the face while giving a statement or during detention, and two said they were forced to strip naked by a police officer of the same sex in the search room, despite having been told of no reason why this was needed, Tuan added.
“These are not isolated incidents but serious allegations from a human rights point of view. They are all the more unacceptable if bodily harm was inflicted,” Tuan wrote. “Upon hearing from the students themselves what physical and mental pains they had suffered, I felt sad and anguished.”
“I cannot over-emphasise that, irrespective of why our students were arrested, the police should ensure that the rights of the arrested must not be infringed upon during arrest and detention.”
Tuan said CUHK has contacted the Independent Police Complaints Council (IPCC), which had promised to send observers to all meetings between the Complaints Against Police Office (CAPO) – an internal police department handling the complaints – and the complainants.
But he said the students the CUHK had contacted were unwilling to file complaints because of anxiety about the police or distrust of the CAPO and the IPCC, which is limited in its powers to summon witnesses.
“While I feel frustrated by this state of affairs, I understand that the mistrust of existing mechanisms among students and the public does not begin today,” Tuan said.
He said he would write to Chief Executive Carrie Lam and urge her to initiate an independent investigation of the cases outside existing mechanisms.
“This will hopefully reaffirm the rule of law and restore public confidence,” he said.
“As a matter of fact, demands for the government to establish an independent commission of inquiry to try to get to the root cause of police-civilian conflicts or related matters have grown louder and louder in the past few months,” Tuan added. “The government must constructively address such demands, for only the truth can bring justice to all.”
“Any proven case of improper use of force or violations of human rights by certain police officers must be condemned.”
Tuan also said if the police sought to enter the campus, the University Security Office would ask them if they had reasons to do so, such as executing a search or arrest warrant, conducting an investigation with the consent of those involved in a crime, or if they had reasonable suspicion that the perpetrator of a crime was present on the premises.
A Rapid Response Task Force will be formed to support students, Tuan said.
Tuan ended the letter by saying that violence must stop, and the government must act fast to come up with feasible strategies to solve the problems.
“I very earnestly look forward to the moment when the precious and beautiful spiritual wealth of Hong Kong will be rekindled with brightness and vigour,” he said.
At a press conference on Friday, Police Public Relations Bureau Acting Chief Superintendent Kong Wing-cheung said the relevant students should file complaints to the police.
“I do not see any basic information from Tuan’s letter,” Kong said. “Even if we actively look into the cases, which we sometimes will, I want to say that the most important piece of the puzzle is the complainant’s statement.”
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