A rights group is seeking to meet the head of Hong Kong’s Correctional Services Department (CSD) after more than 100,000 people signed a petition calling for measures to cool down prisons during a record heatwave.

Prisoners’ rights group Wall-fare said Monday there had been no response so far to its meeting request after the online petition attracted the signatures within 33 hours over the weekend. The petition had reached over 120,000 signatures as of Monday evening.

prison cell jail
Photo: Pixabay.

“The problem of extreme heat is exacerbated in correctional facilities… People within the prisons have described the scorching heat they have experienced as similar to that of a steamer,” said a post on Wall-fare’s Facebook page.

Hong Kong on Sunday experienced its hottest day in May since records began, with a maximum 36.1 degrees Celsius, and the government had issued “very hot weather warnings” for 11 straight days as of Monday.

The group’s founder, ex-lawmaker Shiu Ka-chun, and fellow democrat Fernando Cheung requested a meeting with the Commissioner of Correctional Services Woo Ying-ming on Sunday.

Shiu told HKFP the group was willing to meet anywhere at any time but had yet to receive a response. HKFP has reached out to the Correctional Services Department for comment.

‘Humanitarian concerns’

“High temperatures and lack of ventilation in prison cells during hot summers have been a problem for years, especially when most prison facilities are very old and not equipped to provide such protection,” Cheung told HKFP.

The group urged the department to allow more frequent showers and permit hand-held battery-powered fans in prisons and detention centres, among other measures.

Lai Chi Kok Reception Centre
Lai Chi Kok Reception Centre. Photo: Rhoda Kwan/HKFP.

“There’s no point in making prisoners suffer from the hot weather as the summer temperatures are rising in Hong Kong,” Cheung said. “Out of humanitarian concerns, we are urging the CSD to make efforts to ameliorate the situation.”

The majority of the city’s pro-democracy figures are currently sweltering behind bars awaiting trial or serving sentences over various charges related to unauthorised assemblies during the 2019 protests and under the Beijing-imposed national security law.

Thirty-six of the 47 opposition activists accused of breaching the security law have since February 28 been held in detention pending trial at a date to be determined.

In a statement on Sunday, the department said it had adopted appropriate measures to alleviate heat in its facilities, including allowing for adequate ventilation and installing new fans, gates and windows.

47 democrats
(From left to right) Ng Kin-wai, Jimmy Sham, Lawrence Lau, Henry Wong, Kwok Ka-ki, Lee Yue-shun, Lam Cheuk-ting, Sam Cheung and Ray Chan getting on a Correctional Services Department vehicle on March 3, 2021. File Photo: Studio Incendo.

Rights groups fear the city’s detention’s facilities risk being swamped due to high levels of people detained over the 2019 protests. Police made 10,250 arrests and 2,500 prosecutions had been launched as of late May.

Last Friday, Hong Kong unveiled new “smart prison” facilities to enhance efficiency at a launching ceremony for the Tai Tam Gap Correctional Institution. New prison technology currently under development includes “Patrol Robots” and “Robotic Patrol Dogs.”

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Rhoda Kwan is HKFP's Assistant Editor. She has previously written for TimeOut Hong Kong and worked at Meanjin, a literary journal. She holds a double bachelor’s degree in Law and Literature from the University of Hong Kong.