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Basic Law

Hong Kong prisoner mounts legal challenge over rejection of request to phone human rights activist

Choi Chuen-sun files application for judicial review of decision by Stanley Prison to refuse him telephone communication with Society for Community Organisation activist Richard Tsoi Yiu-cheong

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 20 October, 2016, 7:52pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 20 October, 2016, 9:35pm

A prisoner who successfully fought in 2008 for the right of inmates to vote is mounting another legal challenge – this time against the correctional services in Hong Kong over the legality of their rejection of his request to make telephone calls to a friend during incarceration.

In an application for a judicial review submitted on Wednesday, Choi Chuen-sun claimed the decision in question by the Correctional Services Department was inconsistent with the right to privacy of communication guaranteed under Article 30 of the Basic Law and Article 14 of the Hong Kong Bill of Rights Ordinance.

A spokeswoman for the department said it would not comment on Choi’s claim, but stressed requests for telephone calls were considered on a case-by-case basis “subject to security restrictions”.

Choi, 53, said he previously served a prison sentence at Stanley Prison from March last year to August this year after his conviction for robbery and theft, but was subsequently transferred to Tai Lam Correctional Institution.

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The prisoner applied on May 19 last year to call Richard Tsoi Yiu-cheong to seek information on the law related to prisoners’ rights.

Tsoi, from the Society for Community Organisation, had assisted the inmate in a lawsuit filed in 2008 against Hong Kong’s blanket restriction on the right of prisoners to vote.

The human rights activist had visited Choi in jail on four occasions prior to that time, and the communication between them had never been opposed by the authority, the prisoner said in court documents.

But Choi was purportedly informed that his application in May last year for phone calls to Tsoi had been rejected, without reasons being given.

The refusal was compared to Choi’s successful application in February this year to call Wong Chi-yuen – another employee of the non-governmental organisation.

Choi questioned why the superintendent of Stanley Prison had approved an application at one time but rejected another.

“The superintendent’s decision to refuse the request is tainted with procedural unfairness as he did not give any reason for his decision,” the judicial review application states.

Choi argued the correctional services had a duty to act under Article 6 of the Bill of Rights Ordinance, so that the management of the prison would be consistent with the aim of reformation and rehabilitation, and he cited the provision of a telephone call system for prisoners as a way to serve that purpose.

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“The question of whether the right to access telephone calls can be recognised as the right to respect for a private life ... has been considered by the European Court of Human Rights,” he said.

The prisoner has asked the High Court in Hong Kong to quash the rejection of his application to make the phone calls.

Choi also requested the court declare the prison order in question inconsistent with the right to communication protected by the Basic Law and that nothing in the law would empower the correctional services to restrict the rights of prisoners to undertake telephone communication with the outside world.

In a reply to a Post inquiry, the Correctional Services Department said people in custody could maintain contact with friends and relatives through letters and personal visits in accordance with the relevant provisions under prison rules.

“Requests for telephone calls will be considered on a case-by-case basis subject to security restrictions,” a department spokeswoman said.