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Ethnic minorities in Hong Kong

Transgender woman kept with men to protect female inmates, Hong Kong court hears

Government argues Philippine national’s privacy was safeguarded at all-male facility

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 09 August, 2016, 3:39pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 09 August, 2016, 9:51pm

The prison authority has a statutory duty to protect “vulnerable” female inmates from male prisoners, the High Court heard on Tuesday.

The Correctional Services Department told the court it was “appropriate”, though not ideal, to have treated a transgender woman as a man and put her in an all-male facility.

The department and police were responding to claims by Philippine national Navarro Luigi Recasa, who is seeking a legal review for being treated as a male prisoner by the authorities, that she was a victim of discrimination and unconstitutional prison rules.

Transgender woman’s detention in Hong Kong all-male prison ‘unconstitutional’, court told

Barrister Lisa Wong Kwok-ying SC, for the authorities, said Recasa had not completed sex reassignment surgery before she was serving time in Hong Kong for drug and immigration offences.

It was a legitimate concern if a pre-operative, transgender woman was incarcerated with female inmates, Wong told the court.

In a detention setting, certain rights provided for inmates could be curtailed for the sake of preserving custodial discipline and security
Lisa Wong, government barrister

She said female inmates were vulnerable as they were locked up in close quarters without alternative options, and therefore a transgender woman should not be held in a prison for women.

Despite being placed instead in an all-male institution, the Philippine national’s privacy had been protected, Wong added.

Prison staff had kept male inmates away from Recasa when she went to the toilet, the court heard.

“In a detention setting, certain rights provided for inmates could be curtailed for the sake of preserving custodial discipline and security,” Wong said.

Clive Grossman SC, for Recasa, earlier argued that his client was “extremely sensitive” in her transition from male to female and that the treatment she had received was “inhuman and degrading”.

Recasa, now 21, has since gone back to the Philippines after serving her time in the city.

She was said to have received hormone treatment since the age of 12 and had breast augmentation surgery at the age of 18.

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She was arrested for drug offences in June 2014 and paraded in front of male detainees at Central Police Station, it was claimed. After an initial hearing at Eastern Court, she was remanded at the all-male Pik Uk Correctional Institution.

Recasa was incarcerated at the institution and Siu Lam Psychiatric Centre for around 13 months, during which time she was placed in all-male detention facilities and was strip-searched on multiple occasions by male officers.

She was subjected to humiliation when she was ordered to remove her clothing, including her bra and underwear, in front of male prison officers, Grossman said.

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The barrister said Recasa was refused hormone treatment for almost eight months, during which time she was “traumatised” due to the development of male physical characteristics on her body.

But Wong argued that the treatment the inmate requested was special and that it took time for the prison authority to handle it and refer it to a relevant specialist under existing procedures.

Grossman said the treatment Recasa received breached her basic human rights.

The Philippine national wants the court to review the authorities’ decision to send her to male facilities, which she claims breached her fundamental rights under the Basic Law.