Police upgrade cells amid rights concerns

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 04 August, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 04 August, 2010, 12:00am

Police are improving privacy and hygiene in police station cells after a social welfare group said existing conditions could be a breach of human rights.

The work, to be completed next year, includes raising the height of cubicle walls so prisoners do not have to go to the toilet in front of other detainees, and providing toothbrushes and towels.

The Security Bureau said ceiling fans would also be installed in the corridors of 24 stations that lacked them, and in-cell toilet flushing would be provided at 15 where officers now flush them from outside.

Conditions, described by one former inmate as 'dirty' and 'smelly' came to public attention last year when the Society for Community Organisation (Soco) said it was considering a judicial review to see if they infringed human rights law.

Of the city's 64 police stations, 33 have a total of 380 cells and about 1,250 bed spaces.

One asylum seeker said yesterday he was not treated like a human being during a six-day detention in a 100 sq ft cell at Yuen Long police station with nine other people in 2008.

'The in-cell toilet was very smelly,' he said. 'No water, no shower and no pillow were provided - only a blanket which was extremely dirty and had fleas on it.'

Detainees had to sleep on the floor as close as a metre from the open toilet, which was flushed from outside the cell.

He said he remembered one inmate using water from the toilet bowl to wash his face just after it was flushed as they were provided with no water to clean themselves.

Soco is urging the police to allow Justices of the Peace to visit the cells and inspect the conditions.

'We also recommended police issue guidelines on the operation of police cell detention and clearly list out the rights of detainees,' Soco organiser Annie Lin said.

A Security Bureau spokeswoman said it was not part of JPs' duties to visit police detention facilities.

A detained person who felt aggrieved at their treatment could lodge a complaint with the force's Complaints Against Police Office.

Members of the Independent Police Complaints Council could also conduct visits to police stations.

A police spokesman said the police strived to ensure the protection of human rights and welfare of people in the police's detention facilities. Lawmaker Emily Lau Wai-hing said she supported a code of practice or guidelines for police officers on the rights of detainees.