Hong Kong activists have urged the government to set up an independent commission to monitor correctional services after they accused prison officers of abusing jailed protesters.
On Tuesday, Secretary-general of pro-democracy group Demosisto Joshua Wong and lawmaker for the social welfare sector Shiu Ka-chun laid out allegations made against officers at Pik Uk Prison in Clear Water Bay.
Wong said that, although the Independent Police Complaints Council which reviews police misconducts is often considered a “toothless tiger” – prison officers, in comparison, are not held accountable for potential abuses in any existing mechanisms. “Over the past months, we have emphasised monitoring the police use of force. But when it comes to monitoring correctional services… it is far weaker and more lacking.”
He added that resentment towards the Hong Kong police, amid claims of brutality, would not distract them from concerns about abuses at correctional services: “Many incidents of police brutality are captured in video and photos. But prison officer abuses are not documented… which is why we should raise public awareness.”
Shiu said the Complaints Investigation Unit of Correctional Services Department (CSD) had received 81 complaints in 2018, with only five established cases. But enquiries about their 2019 figures remain unanswered.
Pik Uk Prison
Wong and Shiu said physical abuse against prisoners at local prisons was serious, citing a February 7 incident at Pik Uk Prison where dozens of inmates – after singing the protest anthem Glory to Hong Kong – were allegedly slapped by an officer.
One ex-detainee, a protester who gave his first name “Jackson,” said via video link that the incident involved a morning shift officer: “He demanded: ‘All rioters squat and move.’ Several of us squatted as we moved to a corner next to a stairway where CCTV cameras have no coverage.”
Another ex-prisoner, who gave his name as “Tom,” said he was also punished during the same incident: “[The officer] slapped two prisoners and demanded the rest of us to slap ourselves vigorously. He also threatened us to stay silent by saying he knew where our families live.”
The Correctional Services Department (CSD) did not respond to the allegations when approached by HKFP, but suggested those who feel aggrieved by their treatment should file complaints for investigation.
Wong – who has served several prison sentences – also shared his first-person experience of filing a complaint against prison guards towards the end of 2017: “That’s when I experienced [a] process that totally violated procedural justice… All the complaints handling committee [members] are just appointed by the chief of the correctional services department.”
The CSD told HKFP that prisoners may complain to the institution’s management – the directorate officers of the CSD Headquarters – when they inspect prisons. Or they may approach the Complaints Investigation Unit of the department. In terms of impartiality and checks-and-balances, the department said external oversight includes the options of lodging complaints to members of the Legislative Council, The Ombudsman or visiting Justices of the Peace.
Also at the Pik Uk facility – which houses male juveniles under the age of 21 – allegations collected by Demosisto include instances of guards beating prisoners feet and palms with wooden rods, metal rulers and batons. Officers allegedly called all prisoners with charges related to the pro-democracy movement “rioters,” Shiu told the press citing current inmates.
Wong said protest-related publications were banned. “Books directly related to anti-extradition movement, like magazines published by Apple Daily or Next Media, are all not allowed…” He added that the authorities said such decisions were at the discretion of the security departments at different prisons.
In response to HKFP’s enquiry, the CSD said persons in custody may receive books, periodicals, newspapers or other publications, but the authority had the discretion to withhold items which may pose security threats: “[If] a publication is of such a nature or its content is detrimental to the rehabilitation of any PIC [Person in Cusody] or posing a threat to the security, good order and discipline of the institution, the institutional management may withhold and dispose of the publication or any part thereof.”
As for CCTV coverage at prisons, the CSD said it “regularly reviews the operation of the system as well as progressively replaces the system and extends its coverage as planned.”
Protester “Tom” said the prison officers had absolute power: “What we have experienced is just the tip of an iceberg… but we must stand up against it.”