Alleged torture victims are prosecuted

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 07 September, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 07 September, 2005, 12:00am

An African family is charged with overstaying

A family of alleged torture victims from Cameroon has been charged with overstaying in Hong Kong even though their claims are still being screened by the government.

The family of four, featured in the South China Morning Post in May for being forced to scavenge for food and beg for accommodation and transport fares pending their asylum application, won a temporary reprieve at Sha Tin Court yesterday after the government agreed to adjourn the prosecution for six months.

Jean-Paul (not his real name) and his wife were charged with breaching their conditions of stay. The couple, who have two young sons, have been in Hong Kong since January last year seeking asylum over claims they were tortured because of Jean-Paul's work with an opposition party.

But when they went to an immigration office in Kowloon Bay to have their recognisance papers renewed in June this year, they were taken to the Ma Tau Kok Detention Centre. After a day of arguing back and forth, they were charged and released on $10 bail.

'They asked me to sign some document saying I was guilty but I said no ... We called the [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] but they said they could not do anything to help,' he said. 'We don't know when they will tell us the result of our application but it is a very long procedure, and prosecuting us will also affect our children.'

Prominent human rights lawyer Mark Daly, who took on their case, said he was initially outraged that the government would want to prosecute a 'young family, posing no threat to anybody and just exercising their fundamental right to be screened for torture claims'.

'We welcome the decision to adjourn these prosecutions until the results of their screening under the Convention Against Torture, but our view is that such people should not be prosecuted at all,' he said.

Bar Association chairman Philip Dykes said prosecution of asylum seekers and torture claimants was 'nonsense' because if the claim were proved to be well-founded, there was no point in prosecuting, whereas if it were not genuine, they would be deported.

In a landmark judgment last year, the Court of Final Appeal said the right not to be tortured was a fundamental human right and called on the government to assess all torture claims individually.

The UNHCR rejected the family's application for refugee status in December.

A Security Bureau spokesman said that while a torture claim was being assessed, the director of immigration may consider granting recognisance.