20 April 2018
Officers at the Lo Wu Correctional Institution have been accused of attacking a South African woman inmate. Photo: HK Government
Officers at the Lo Wu Correctional Institution have been accused of attacking a South African woman inmate. Photo: HK Government

African woman complains of mistreatment at Lo Wu prison

An African woman who has been jailed in Hong Kong for drug trafficking has accused prison authorities of mistreating her.

Marlese Mbachu, who is in her 40s, has complained that officers at the Lo Wu Correctional Institution used pepper spray on her and attacked her physically following an altercation in March.

Mbachu said she became a target of Correctional Services Department (CSD) officers after she stood up for the rights of ethnic minority inmates at the prison.

According to the woman, who is from South Africa, her problems began on March 21 when she was accused of using foul language against some prison officers.

She said there had been an argument with CSD staff as she sought privacy when she was having a phone conversation with her family members back home.

The prison staff didn’t heed her request, following which angry words were exchanged.

CSD then accused Mbachu of using foul language, and decided to punish the woman by putting her in solitary confinement.

The next day, according to Mbachu, over ten CSD officers stormed into her cell and fired pepper spray at her, Apple Daily reported.

When she tried to cover her face, the officers pulled her arms and handcuffed her, she says, adding that the CSD staff also pulled her hair and rubbed pepper spray onto her stomach.

The attack was premeditated, Mbachu said, accusing the prison staff of taking revenge on her for having lodged complaints earlier over the treatment of ethnic minority inmates at the jail.

Following the attack, she said she had to be taken to the prison hospital, and subsequently to the North District Hospital, for treatment.

Mbachu said it was not the first time that an ethnic minority prisoner was subjected to violent attack in a Hong Kong prison.

Responding to the allegations, a CSD spokesperson pointed out that Mbachu has had 15 counts of disciplinary violations, including possession of forbidden articles, making direct threats, and insulting and abusing CSD officers.

Mbachu is currently being looked at by a clinical psychologist, the CSD spokesperson said.

Meanwhile, the prisoner has been told that if she has any legitimate grievances she can approach the police complaints cell.

The South African woman is said to be considering her options.

Mbachu was sentenced in 2011 for drug trafficking and was imprisoned at the Tai Lam Correctional Institute. The following year, she was transferred to the Lo Wu Correctional Institution.

Law Yuk-kai, director of rights group Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor, said there have been cases in the past of ethnic minority prisoners being targeted by CSD officers.

The abusive actions stem from racial discrimination, he said.

In 2012, a Ugandan woman suffered serious burns to her face after she was fired pepper spray twice in a day by CSD officers.

The attack came after the officers accused the woman of concealing a piece of bread, and for talking to others during shower.

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