Solitary confinement was used to silence me over fatal beating of Taiwanese inmate, ex-Hong Kong prisoner says

Former Lai Chi Kok prison inmate Sajed Mahmood Minhas alleges he was separated and warned to keep his mouth shut about incident which saw three officers jailed for 16 months

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 20 November, 2016, 10:26pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 20 November, 2016, 11:28pm

Prison authorities have been urged to drop their use of solitary confinement amid accusations guards used it to silence a prisoner who had witnessed staff beat a Taiwanese inmate to death.

The Correctional Services Department was quick to respond on Sunday to the accusations by Sajed Mahmood Minhas, telling him to report the case to police.

“Given the serious nature of the reported allegation by a member of the public today, he is strongly advised to report it to the police for criminal investigation,” a department spokesman said.

Minhas said he had been waiting for treatment at the medical ward of Lai Chi Kok prison one day in 2009, when senior managerial officers from the department visited. Prisoners were instructed to stand up to show respect for the officers, he recalled.

A case for solitary confinement

But a Taiwanese prisoner, Chen Chu-nan, did not stand because he did not understand Cantonese, according to Minhas.

“An officer shouted at him and questioned why he did not stand,” Minhas said. “Two or three officers pushed him inside a room. I heard him yelling for help. I believed the Taiwanese man was being attacked. Other officers then told us to leave the area immediately.”

Minhas alleged other prison officers later warned him to keep his mouth shut about what he had witnessed. He said he was even pepper sprayed by prison officers for stirring up trouble despite him insisting he had done nothing wrong.

He was placed in solitary confinement for 69 days. Two of those days he was in a cell so small he could touch its opposite walls when reaching out both arms, he said.

Three officers were jailed for 16 months in 2012 for inflicting serious bodily harm on Chen, who was found to have 117 bruises and wounds on his body.

The treatment of prisoners on indeterminate sentences needs to be reviewed

Annie Lin, a community organiser for the Society for Community Organisation, said solitary confinement was a form of torture and the city’s prisons should stop using it. She said government figures on its use were incomplete, but there could be about 8,000 cases every year.

A Correctional Services Department spokesman said: “For maintenance of good order and discipline as well as protecting the safety of persons in custody and stakeholders concerned”, the department may segregate prisoners from others.

“This in turn also provides the optimal custodial environment to assist rehabilitation,” he said. “All cases of segregation are prudently examined and no prisoners are kept for undue periods of segregation.”

He added that there were established mechanisms for prisoners who felt aggrieved by such decisions or treatment for them to file complaints.