Democracy activist Alex Chow has expressed confusion over “nutritious” meals supplied to him in prison, while stating that he was grateful towards correctional officers for their care.
Chow was released on bail on Tuesday after Hong Kong’s top court granted permission to Chow and fellow activists Nathan Law and Joshua Wong to appeal their sentences. They were given jail sentences of six to eight months in August for their participation in the Civic Square clashes in 2014.
Chow said he lost around four kilograms in the two months he was in prison because of a “nutritious menu” which no correctional officer could clearly explain.
“Many inmates have constipation – it is related to what they eat and digest,” he said on a Commercial Radio programme. “We discussed this in prison and found that it was common… There’s no reason for us to lose our health in prison.”
“There was a nutrition pyramid poster which recommended [eating] two pieces of fruit each day. But look at your meal – there’s only one orange. Where’s the other orange?” he said.
He said that officers gave him three different answers: that they have to ask about it; that it was a policy from the top; and that he can submit an access to information request.
According to Chow, the poster disappeared after he repeatedly asked about it: “It’s very strange… I cannot rule out possibility that they regularly change the posters, so it’s only speculation that they removed it because of me.”
Chow said he spoke out about the practice of correctional staff demanding that inmates kneel down for headcounts before returning to their cells after dinner, and it ceased afterwards. But he said he was not sure if it was a coincidence.
Chow said that after two months in prison, he is grateful towards correctional officers for their care, and hoped to avoid conflicts with them even if he still had questions about the operations of the facilities.
“Maybe the front line officers face a lot of pressure [from the top], and they cannot give their opinions freely – they didn’t agree with this practice, but they were stuck,” he said.
He also raised concerns over the hygiene of bed blankets, which were seldom washed, and the working environment for inmates.
The Correctional Services Department said in a statement that it provides food for inmates which fulfills international dietary guidelines.
“The standard quantity and nutritional content of food in the existing Dietary Scales are designed by qualified dietitians and supported by the Department of Health,” it said, adding that inmates can seek assistance from correctional officers at any time if they are sick, and they will be referred to the institutional hospital for follow-up immediately.
Chow said that he wished to become a more self-aware person and understand his shortcomings, as well as learn how to persist when faced with setbacks on the road to democracy.
He said that he has observed many who were more emotional when facing such problems after the Umbrella Movement, and he believed that it was meaningful to study Buddhism.
Asked about his remarks on Tuesday in which he “thanked” Justice Secretary Rimsky Yuen for providing a platform for Hong Kong people to “let justice be done and seen” and giving the jailed activists a “wonderful journey,” Chow said that some sarcasm was inevitable, but he was also in part genuinely grateful.
Chow said that were it not for Yuen, he would not have had a chance to observe operations from the inside of a correctional facility. “Prison plays a very important role in society,” he added.
Additional reporting: Karen Cheung