Force denies protesters were ordered to strip

Lawmakers and civil activists were shocked when a police spokesman denied yesterday that officers had told Wedding Card Street protesters to remove their underwear, in the latest twist of a saga over police strip-searches that began in 2007.

At the Legislative Council's subcommittee meeting on police searches of detainees, Alan Yu Mun-wah, assistant commissioner of police, told lawmakers the results of internal police investigations into the controversy stemming from an October 2007 protest against the demolition of Wedding Card, or Lee Tung, Street.

'We only asked the detainees to remove their outer clothes, according to our internal findings,' Mr Yu said. Police knew of the protesters' allegations of being strip-searched at the North Point police station, he said, but no orders had been issued to conduct such searches.

Fifteen of the protesters campaigning for the preservation of the historic street in Wan Chai, famed for its profusion of wedding-card shops, were arrested. Eight were searched - four women and four men - according to male protester Wong Ho-yin, who was among those arrested.

Soon after, the protesters held a press conference complaining they had been strip-searched unnecessarily by police. A female protester said she saw a male sergeant looking at her after she had stripped, and two male protesters said they had been ordered to touch intimate parts of their bodies during the search.

The case raised public concern and was discussed at the UN's Committee against Torture in November, but police did not release the report of their internal investigation.

Mr Yu said the detainees were searched for their own safety, to find articles they might use to harm themselves or others.

'Some protesters reacted violently while they were arrested.'

James To Kun-sun, chairman of the subcommittee, said he was shocked by the police findings. He said this was the first time he had heard the force deny a strip-search had been ordered, and urged police to clarify the matter. If they did not, he said, legislators might need to invoke the Legco (Power and Privileges) Ordinance to investigate the issue.

Legislator Cyd Ho Sau-lan, who had given the protesters legal advice, demanded that police submit the investigation report to Legco as soon as possible.

The force would follow up legislators' requests to see the investigation report, a police spokesman said.

The director of Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor, Law Yuk-kai, said the findings showed somebody might be lying about the case.

'Why didn't the police deny ordering the strip-searches at the very beginning?' he said. 'The police must tell the public what happened during the detention of the protesters, otherwise it's a sacrifice of social justice.'

Mr Wong was angry about the latest police response to the case. The force had made a similar claim in earlier documents they issued in the course of recent legal procedures, he said.

'The police officer ordered me to remove my clothes. After I removed my trousers, the officer ordered me to further remove my clothes - which means my underwear. I certainly would not have removed my clothes if the police hadn't ordered it.'

Baring their all

Fifteen people were arrested for protesting against the demolition of Wedding Card Street in Wan Chai

The number of them who were allegedly strip-searched: 8