Immigration officials deny 'improper belly taps' at border on suspected pregnant women

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 24 March, 2013, 12:37pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 24 March, 2013, 1:44pm

Hong Kong's Immigration Department has denied its officers ever asked female passengers to lift their clothing, tap or press their bellies at border checkpoints, according to a statement by the department in response to a South China Morning Post query. 

"After reviewing surveillance video and conducting inquiries with our officers, we didn't find any occurrence of anybody asking certain passengers to press their bellies or lift their clothing," said the written statement, in reference to eye-witness accounts that have gone viral on Chinese social media, stirring controversy over Hong Kong's crackdown on mainland Chinese women giving birth in Hong Kong. 

According to one such account, posted by mainland resident Su Jia on the popular social media site Weibo, immigration officers at Lok Ma Chau checkpoint ordered several women to lift their clothing, tap or press their stomachs, including one woman who said she was in her 50s.

Su, a public relations director, told the South China Morning Post that on Wednesday, he saw an immigration officer issue such instructions to a woman.

The woman complied, Su said. But she looked both amused and annoyed, and said: “Come on, I am more than 50 years old.

A younger woman who was accompanying her was asked to do the same, Su said. She asked: “Am I too fat?”

Both women had entry permits, he said.

Su suggested officers interview the women in closed rooms rather than in public.

“The procedures were an invasion of the mainland women’s privacy. I’d always thought Hong Kong was a society based on the rule of law that respected individual human rights. But the immigration officers’ conduct really disappointed me,” he said.

The Hong Kong government has been facing pressure from locals to tighten checks on expectant mainlanders who try to enter the city to give birth so that their children will gain right of abode.

Immigration and Health Department officers would only visually examine incoming passengers, according to the Immigration Department statement. 

When needed, officers would ask passengers if they are pregnant, but never physically touch them nor ask them to pat or press their own bellies, said the department. In case of uncertainty, they would ask a passenger to go into an interview room for further questioning, or ask for help from medical professionals, it said. 

Separately, another mainland woman told the Post that Hong Kong immigration officers told her to press her stomach as she entered the city in August 2011.

“My friend, who was queueing behind me, was angry and couldn’t believe what she saw.” The woman, who declined to giver her name, said she was from Kunshan city in China's eastern Jiangsu province .

As of Sunday, Su’s posting had been reposted more than 12,700 times since it went up on Wednesday. More than 5,600 comments followed.

Some web users felt their countrymen had been insulted. “This is absolute discrimination against mainlanders,” one wrote.

But just as many were sympathetic. “It is your choice to go, so put up with it,” one said, urging people to comply with officers.

Ngai Sik-shui, chairman of the Immigration Service Officers Association, said officers would ask suspected pregnant woman to go into a room for inquiries.

In case of doubt, they would ask doctors from the Health Department to check the women, but only Lo Wu and Lok Ma Chau had such doctors, he said.