New probe into CSD assaults at Whitehead

PUBLISHED : Friday, 24 June, 1994, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 24 June, 1994, 12:00am

CORRECTIONAL Services Department (CSD) officers could face prosecution under the Immigration Ordinance for their treatment of Vietnamese boat people during the controversial raid on the Whitehead detention centre, it emerged yesterday.

This comes on top of an existing police investigation into about 90 assaults when the officers were involved in the attempt to clear Section 7 at the Whitehead detention centre. No charges have been laid.

The inquiry into breaches of immigration law is being undertaken by an internal working group of the CSD's top echelon of officers and was launched just days after the report on the April 7 raid on the Whitehead was released.

The report found that CSD officers had asked 21 asylum-seekers to sign transfer documents containing a false claim, and that two of the Vietnamese had been assaulted when they had questioned what they were signing.

Yesterday, a senior government official confirmed the CSD was ''looking into'' the conduct of the officers said to be involved in seeking the false declarations from the Vietnamese.

The official would not reveal how many officers were being investigated.

Procedures regarding the transfer of asylum-seekers also were being reviewed by a CSD working group of assistant commissioners, headed by Deputy Commissioner Raymond Lai Min-kee, a CSD spokesman confirmed yesterday.

He said a legislative attachment to the Immigration Ordinance required that a transfer document be signed by people being moved to Chi Ma Wan.

And lawyers for the Vietnamese said action could be taken against CSD officers responsible for the breaches of legislation identified in the report.

The Whitehead report said that when the two Vietnamese had questioned officers about the documents, they had been pushed into a toilet and roughed up ''with punching''. They could identify their assailant.

It said the transfer documents had been prepared in a way that suggested the Vietnamese had known what they were signing, ''but this was not the case''.

Seventeen of the 21 had been identified as troublemakers before the raid. Instead of being taken to the High Island camp with the other 1,500 people being moved, they had been taken to the island prison of Chi Ma Wan.

Two of the men alleged to have been troublemakers since have been given refugee status after the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees exercised its right to overrule the Government, which had found they were not refugees and screened them out.

The report found that 10 of the group of 21 were taken to the Whitehead administration block during the transfer operation, where at least one person alleged he had been struck with a truncheon. It concluded that all 10 were assaulted before signing their transfer forms.

''The beating in most instances involved more than one CSD officer; two or more were involved. The beating consisted of punching, elbow punching, chopping, slapping, kicking and being stepped on.'' It stated that the group transferred to Chi Ma Wan had been asked to sign a document acknowledging that they had been served with written notice of the ground for transfer. ''In fact, they were not adequately so informed.'' No prior notice of the Whitehead raid had been given to any of the detainees.

The report into the Whitehead raid was prepared by two Justices of the Peace after more than 170 Vietnamese sought medical treatment for burns they received when security forces fired 510 canisters of tear-gas into the camp compound.

Initially the Government said that only one person had been injured and officials denied later reports that hundreds had been hurt.

The Whitehead report was delivered to the Governor on June 10 and publicly released last week.

Despite the report's findings, the Chi Ma Wan-based officers remain in their jobs and the CSD has refused to give details on the progress of any investigations taking place.

The US-based Human Rights Watch/Asia slammed the Government yesterday for its inaction over the Whitehead report, but also criticised the report itself for falling ''far short in assigning responsibility to the abusers''.

Mentioning the Secretary for Security, the Refugees Co-ordinator and the CSD Commissioner, the powerful group's executive director Sidney Jones said swift disciplinary action was needed at the highest levels.

Mr Jones also identified the findings of what happened to the group transferred to Chi Ma Wan as an area to be pursued, saying that during the raid, this group of Vietnamese had been ''systematically assaulted and forced to sign false statements that they had been notified in advance of the reason for their transfer to punitive detention in the Upper Chi Ma Wan camp''.

Four other United States pressure groups lodged similar protests in a co-ordinated call for action yesterday.

The Legislative Council Security Panel will push for urgent government action on the report at a special meeting scheduled for tomorrow.

Last night the Government rejected the criticism.

A spokesman said the police investigation into allegations of assaults was nearing completion and that to suggest that the Government had not moved quickly to act on the findings and recommendations of the report was unfair and untrue.