Pakistani tells of two-year hell in prison

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 25 November, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 25 November, 2007, 12:00am

When 'Khan' first arrived in Hong Kong from Pakistan to escape political persecution four years ago he did not expect it to be the start of another nightmare: two years in jail.

'I was detained from January 2003 to January 2005, although I didn't commit any crime,' said Mr Khan - not his real name because he fears repercussions from the authorities if his identity is revealed.

The 40-year-old believes he is one of the longest-detained asylum seekers in Hong Kong. He said he was eventually freed with the help of a lawyer and was making an application for refugee status to the UNHCR.

Mr Khan arrived in January 2003 on a two-week visitor's visa. A day before his visa expired, he went to the Immigration Department to extend it, telling the officer he had a UNHCR letter stating he had applied for refugee status.

'I knew that if I went back to my home country, I would be arrested at the airport immediately,' said Mr Khan, adding he had been involved in social movements in Pakistan.

The immigration officer said Mr Khan had to leave Hong Kong, and asked for his address. 'Four days later, they came to my house and arrested me. I was then detained for the next 24 months,' he recalled.

During those two years he was detained at Ma Tau Kok Detention Centre, Victoria Prison and Siu Lam Psychiatric Centre.

Recalling his 680 days in the now-closed Victoria Prison, Mr Khan said: 'Victoria Prison was a 150-year-old prison. I was locked in a very small room of roughly 30 sq ft which could fit only one small bed. There was no light, no fan inside. Whenever I needed the toilet, I could only use the small bucket in my room.

'It was like a dark steam room in summer and was freezing cold in winter. Although I put over seven blankets on me, I still felt very cold.'

Eventually, a lawyer offered Mr Khan free help, arranging for a guarantor and facilitating his release in January 2005.

Mr Khan said without the help he might have stayed in jail for another two years. 'It is still a puzzle why I was detained for 24 months as I didn't commit any crime,' he said.

An Immigration Department spokesman said he would not comment on individual cases.

By the end of last month, the Immigration Department knew of 2,430 asylum seekers liable for detention. But only about 160 had been detained and, of those, about 20 had been held for more than three months.