Community & Education Hong Kong Law & Crime

Hong Kong democracy activist Joshua Wong says prison complaints system is a ‘black box operation’

Demosisto activist Joshua Wong has accused the prison complaints system of lacking transparency after two complaints he filed over alleged mistreatment were found to be unsubstantiated.

Wong had filed complaints in January over his treatment at the Tung Tau Correctional Institution and Pik Uk Correctional Institution, alleging that prison staff had abused their power. He received a response six months later, with both found to be unsubstantiated, and said he would appeal the results of both complaints at a press conference on Friday.

joshua wong csd

Joshua Wong holding letters from the CSD during a press conference. Photo: inmedia.hk.

Wong alleged he was made to answer questions while squatting naked for about three minutes on his first day at Tung Tau.

He made another complaint against an officer at the Pik Uk juvenile detention facility alleging misconduct. He claimed that the officer swore at him while he was folding bedding and said his work was “substandard,” and that he was the only one to receive a warning letter though others were also told that their folding was inadequate.

He said he called the chief officer of the Complaints Investigation Unit for an explanation, and was told that the complaint was not substantiated as staff members denied in a statement that they had asked Wong to squat.

Wong said he would launch a civil claim in the small claims tribunal.

“I hope that, through a civil claim, I will be able to publicly question correctional services employees as a claimant.”

He accused the Correctional Services Department of purposely making it difficult to file complaints, saying he went through many rounds of phone calls, letters and enquiries to try to obtain the details of the investigation.

See also: Hong Kong inmates keep silent over prison staff misconduct for fear of retaliation, NGO finds

He said he tried to obtain the statements that the CSD had collected from its staff members and detainees, but was denied on the grounds of protecting the privacy of those giving statements.

After several weeks, and further attempts to obtain the records, Wong said he was finally told that he could fill out a form to apply according to the Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance. He said the appeal process was not explained clearly at the start, and criticised the complaints system as a “black box operation,” saying it lacked transparency.

‘People investigating their own people’

Wong and four legislators – Shiu Ka-chun, Fernando Cheung, Au Nok-hin, and Kenneth Leung – called for the establishment of an independent body to handle complaints.

joshua wong csd

Photo: inmedia.hk.

Currently, inmates mainly rely on the Complaints Investigation Unit (CIU) – an internal unit of the CSD – for allegations against prison staff.

According to the department’s 2017 Annual Review, only three complaints out of 123 investigated by the CIU last year were substantiated. In the past five years, only eight were substantiated.

Lawmaker Fernando Cheung said those in the CIU and those in the Correctional Services Department Complaints Committee – which has the authority to examine all investigation findings handled by CIU – are all CSD staff members. Even the CSD’s Complaints Appeal Board is chaired by the CSD’s Deputy Commissioner.

“Those who are not officials are all appointed by the government – it’s just people investigating their own people,” he said.

Wong served 69 days in prison for his involvement in a clash outside the Legislative Council which sparked the 2014 pro-democracy Occupy protests.

In response to HKFP’s enquiries, the CSD said it does not comment on individual cases. However, it added that complainants can apply for appeal to the CSD’s Complaints Appeal Board.

“The CSD’s Complaints Appeal Board is made up of society shareholders who are familiar with the functioning of the correctional system – there are currently 14 Justices of the Peace and four religious members who are appointed as non-government members,” it said, adding that the board’s independence will ensure that the appeal cases will be handled fairly.

Hong Kong democracy activist Joshua Wong says prison complaints system is a 'black box operation'