A Hong Kong lawmaker has questioned whether prisoners are being forced to undergo Covid-19 testing, saying he had received a report that a detainee who refused to take part was sent to solitary confinement.

The Hong Kong government is currently operating a voluntary mass testing scheme for hundreds of thousands of residents. This week, it announced that all 7,000 prison inmates would also be tested after two of them were found to be infected. It was unclear from the announcement whether prisoners would have the right to refuse tests.

lo wu correctional institution.
Lo Wu Correctional Institution. Photo: GovHK.

Pro-democracy lawmaker Shiu Ka-chun, in a posting on Facebook, cited a detainee at Lo Wu Correctional Institution as saying that another inmate had been sent to solitary confinement after refusing to be tested.

“She was sent to solitary confinement where there are no TV, books, biscuits or radio. It equates with an alternative punishment. But she didn’t do anything wrong, except not participating in the ‘voluntary testing’,” Shiu wrote.

Established in 2010, Lo Wu Correctional Institution is a medium-security prison for women.

mask coronavirus covid social distancing
A boy wearing face mask as a precautionary measure against the COVID-19 coronavirus riding a scooter by the waterfront of Tsim Sha Tsui district in Hong Kong. Photo: May James/HKFP.

Shiu said he had written to the Commissioner of Correctional Services, Woo Ying-ming, asking for information on whether solitary confinement amounts to punishment and how the department plans to roll out the testing programme for the 7,000 detainees.

In an email reply to an HKFP enquiry, the Correctional Services Department wrote they had tested around 7,000 detainees from Monday, following advice from the Centre for Health Protection, and all samples were collected by Wednesday.

“There are detainees who persistently refused to submit their samples despite repeated explanations and advice from the [Correctional Services Department] and doctors from the Department of Health. In order to effectively cut the invisible transmission chain and protect the safety of others detained, the department has isolated those detainees for observation,” it wrote.

The China-backed mass testing scheme for the general public has been controversial, with some opponents saying they fear data on Hongkongers will be collected by the mainland. Some experts also say mass testing is less effective than a more targeted programme.

Shiu Ka-chun
Shiu Ka-chun. Photo: Legislative Council, via Flickr.

Amid fears of surveillance and the infringement of personal data privacy, two ministers heading the programme and the city’s chief executive have all emphasised the programme’s voluntary nature and measures to protect data.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam last month described the project as a “100% voluntary universal testing programme” and said no one can force citizens to take the test if they are not willing to. “In addition, we will not attach any conditions or consequences to the voluntary tests.”

Update 11.9.20: This piece was updated to include a response from the Correctional Services Department.

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rachel wong

Rachel Wong

Rachel Wong previously worked as a documentary producer and academic researcher. She has a BA in Comparative Literature and European Studies from the University of Hong Kong. She has contributed to A City Made by People and The Funambulist, and has an interest in cultural journalism and gender issues.