Police cell conditions under fire

PUBLISHED : Monday, 02 November, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 02 November, 2009, 12:00am

Lisa, a Nepali, surrendered to police for overstaying last December. She was held in a cell at Cheung Sha Wan police station for two days but despite having her period was given only one sanitary napkin a day, and was unable to take a shower.

Hers is one of the many complaints against conditions in police cells received by the Society for Community Organisation (Soco), which is considering filing judicial reviews on these infringements of human rights.

The group has cited police saying in May that a review on cell conditions was under way. Annie Lin, a Soco organiser, said the treatment of detainees in police cells was much worse than that in the detention centres run by the Immigration Department or Correctional Services Department.

'Police have not stated the capacity for each cell. Several detainees have to pack into one small cell and some have to sleep on the floor,' she said. 'No pillows or mattresses are provided, while blankets are extremely dirty and smell.'

Lin said the detainees could not change their clothes, while the cells had no flush toilet or showers. They were not provided with toothbrushes. Supplies of toilet paper and water were inadequate.

Many detainees also complained of a lack of privacy when they used the toilet, Lin said. 'Blocking the toilet area inside the cell is only a low waist-high wall. It means everyone can see the toilet from outside.'

Fellow organiser Richard Tsoi Yiu-cheong said cell conditions were even worse in some old police stations, such as those in Yau Ma Tei and Sham Shui Po. The major problem lay in a lack of proper monitoring of cell conditions from both inside and outside the force, he said.

Tsoi urged police to set up an independent monitoring scheme, and said more resources should be used to improve cell facilities. He said the group was considering filing judicial reviews for several cases, adding that the treatment of detainees could have breached the Basic Law.

A police spokesman said the facilities had achieved 'a reasonable balance' on security concerns, privacy protection and hygiene conditions, and reviews were conducted from time to time. 'Each detainee will be given sufficient food, water and personal-hygiene items.' He said they could also ask to take a shower.