Young HK protester says he was beaten by prison guards

Riot police pin down a protester trying to flee in Hong Kong on Nov 18. Protesters detained at Pik Uk Correctional Institution have detailed the abuse they suffered there. (AP pic)

HONG KONG: A 21-year-old man told Reuters he was beaten and humiliated by guards in a Hong Kong prison during his sentence for possessing a Molotov cocktail at an anti-government protest in October.

Roy Cheung said guards routinely slapped him, hit him with rulers and elbowed his spine at the Pik Uk Correctional Institution in Hong Kong’s New Territories.

In one instance, on Feb 7, he said he was targeted for beating because he was one of six prisoners who sang the pro-democracy protest anthem “Glory to Hong Kong.”

“We sang in the cell,” said Cheung. “We were punished the next day.”

Cheung said a guard told him to say thank you as he slapped him once.

Cheung, who served his eight-month sentence from Nov 2 to June 30, told Reuters he filed an official complaint about the beatings to the Complaints Investigation Unit of Hong Kong’s Correctional Services Department, which runs the city’s prisons, in May.

Reuters did not see a copy of the complaint, which was made while Cheung was in prison, and which Cheung said he was not given a copy of.

The commissioner replied in a letter dated July 10, seen by Reuters, that the Complaints Investigation Unit was investigating his complaint.

A representative of the Correctional Services Department declined to comment on Cheung’s complaint, saying the department does not comment on individual cases.

The person said the department’s Complaints Investigation Unit would conduct a fair, just and detailed investigation of every complaint.

Cheung told Reuters he wanted to make his complaint public in an effort to prevent mistreatment of other protesters who are still detained at Pik Uk.

Four other 18 and 19-year-old pro-democracy protesters, who asked to be identified only by their first names Tom, Ivan, Jackson and Henry, described similar abuse as they were held at Pik Uk after courts refused to grant them bail when they were charged with protest-related offences.

The four have since been released from Pik Uk and are awaiting trial.

The men said the prison guards hit them in ways to avoid bruising and scars and in places in the prison where there was no CCTV, such as near staircases outside the activity room or inside bathrooms.

The Correctional Services Department told Reuters it was investigating the allegations made by the men.

None of the men has filed an official complaint with the Correctional Services Department, saying they feared retaliation by guards if they have to return to Pik Uk.

Cheung told Reuters his cell was inspected by guards every day after he filed a complaint and that he was put in solitary confinement for some periods.

Human rights complaint

In June, pro-democracy organisation Demosisto filed a complaint on behalf of Tom, Ivan and Jackson about alleged abuse at the prison with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

The United Nations declined to comment.

According to Demosisto’s complaint, which was made public in June, guards at Pik Uk targeted protest prisoners by slapping them, elbowing them in the spine, and hitting their hands and feet with sticks, rulers and police batons.

The Correctional Services Department declined to comment on the complaint.

Joshua Wong, former secretary-general of pro-democracy group Demosisto who was imprisoned in 2017 for his role in Hong Kong’s 2014 ‘Umbrella’ protests, told Reuters he was subjected to demeaning treatment in prison, such as being made to squat naked while being questioned by guards in an area of the prison with no CCTV.

He made an official complaint to the Correctional Services Department, but an internal investigation by the department concluded last year that his complaint was unfounded on the grounds that there was no evidence.

The Correctional Services Department declined to comment on the decision, saying it could not comment on individual cases.

Demosisto, which called for a referendum to determine Hong Kong’s sovereignty, was disbanded on June 30 as China passed a national security law which makes anything Beijing regards as subversion or promoting independence punishable by life in prison.

Lam Tsz-wai, senior information officer in the office of Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam, referred Reuters back to the prisons department for comment on the complaints made by Cheung and the other men.

China’s foreign ministry declined to comment.

The State Council Information Office and the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office in Beijing also did not reply to a faxed request for comment.

The 385-person capacity Pik Uk Correctional Institution is used to incarcerate males between the ages of 16 and 21 who are awaiting trial or have been convicted of crimes.

According to Hong Kong lawmaker Shiu Ka Chun, who has visited Pik Uk regularly over the past year and gathered information from prisoners there, at least 55 male protesters have been held in custody at the prison since June 2019.

Of those, he said 22 are still there. The prisons department said it does not have data on the number of people in detention related to the demonstrations.

Hong Kong police said they have arrested 9,672 people and charged 2,093 people since pro-democracy protests turned violent in June last year.

In May, the first protester to plead guilty to the charge of rioting during last year’s protests was sentenced to four years in prison.

More than 1,600 await trial on charges related to the protests, according to government data.