Some inmates have attempted to scheme with others outside of Hong Kong prison walls to endanger national security, Secretary for Security Chris Tang has said. Support for detainees offered by the embattled 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund “sowed seeds that threaten national security” while other groups monopolised the supply of daily necessities for detainees, he said.

Chris Tang
The newly appointed Secretary for Security Chris Tang in his first Legislative Council meeting on July 6, 2021. File Photo: LegCo, via video screenshot.

Tang’s comments came after anti-riot prison officers suppressed a protest by female detainees housed at the Lo Wu Detention Centre last Thursday. The inmates in question reportedly included pro-democracy activist Tiffany Yuen.

The officers found detainees in possession of chocolates and hair clips that exceeded the numbers allowed by prison quotas.

chocolates hair pins
Extracts from an online guide from the Correctional Services Department. Photo: GovHK.

“Many people may wonder what the problem is with having one more hair clip, one more piece of chocolate. These signify privilege within prison walls,” Tang told reporters on Tuesday. “By smuggling these things inside… [to] recruit followers and build influence, and create hatred towards the government and endanger national security,” he said.

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

Former lawmaker Shiu Ka-chun, who founded Wall-fare – a group providing support to detainees and assist their visitors to obtain daily items for detainees – said chocolates and hair clips found at the Lo Wu facility are items on an authorised list. He said that detainees are allowed to receive them, and they would not require smuggling, Stand News reported.

Tang’s comments are “incomprehensible,” Shiu said, as Wall-fare donate authorised items to detainees free of charge, and have no incentive to control their supply. Detainees are “already being punished… [they are] unable to influence national security,” he said.

According to the Correctional Services Department website, approved hand-in items for female detainees on remand include up to two hair pins per six months, and up to five packs of M&Ms per visit.

West Kowloon Magistrates' Courts CSD van
A Correctional Services Department vehicle leaves the West Kowloon Magistrates’ Court. File photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

In response to an HKFP enquiry in June, the Correctional Services Department did not answer questions over how national security was being threatened by prisoners, nor what strategic measures it was taking in response.

“The Correctional Services Department (CSD) has all along been cooperating with other disciplined forces to take resolute enforcement actions to safeguard national security. As the last element in the criminal justice system of Hong Kong, CSD will continue to prevent persons in custody from developing or building up power to oppose the Central Authorities and disrupt Hong Kong,” a spokesperson said.

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Selina Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist who previously worked with HK01, Quartz and AFP Beijing. She also covered the Umbrella Movement for AP and reported for a newspaper in France. Selina has studied investigative reporting at the Columbia Journalism School.