Officials accused of rights denial in refusal to allow inmates more phone calls
The government is not respecting international covenants and agreements on human rights because it refuses to allow prisoners to have longer, more frequent phone calls, a social campaigner said yesterday.
Annie Lin, from the Society for Community Organisation, made the accusation after meeting officials from the Correctional Services Department yesterday.
The society recently urged the government to allow inmates to make longer and more frequent phone calls to people outside jail. Prisoners may make or receive one phone call, of no more than 10 minutes, every three months.
The rules are relaxed under special circumstances - such as calls to ailing relatives, lawyers, family members who cannot visit due to long distances, or when an inmate has not been visited for at least three months. But each call is still limited to 10 minutes.
The society had asked the government to allow prisoners to speak for up to 15 minutes with each call, and to allow them to make at least three calls a month.
But a disciplined services spokeswoman yesterday said that there was no immediate need to change the rules.
'Making phone calls is not the only method for inmates to communicate with the outside world,' she said. 'They can still send out any amount of letters or see visitors. The department reckons there is no need to change the law.'
Lin cited a recommendation made by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, which states prisoners should be able to make or receive more than two phone calls a month, to maintain meaningful contact with the outside world.
'Prisoners have expressed frustration at being able to make only one 10-minute phone call every three months,' she said.
In many jurisdictions in the United States, prisoners can have up to 300 minutes of phone conversations a month.
A correctional services official in Hong Kong said the current system fulfils the authorities' goal of offering compassionate treatment and rehabilitation to inmates.
'There is no shortage of timely communication with the outside world. When a phone call is necessary, inmates are never refused permission,' the official said.
Lin said that the limit on phone calls was particularly traumatising for inmates from overseas who are mothers.
If officials were worried that relaxing the rules would create security problems, a surveillance system could be put in place for the telephone system, she said.
The number of people behind bars in Hong Kong, including 2,300 non-locals. Most of these are from the mainland, says correctional services