Inmates have rights that can't be taken away

September 25, 2017 09:29
In most cases, prisoners have resigned themselves to unfair treatment. Photo: Hong Kong China News Agency

Recently, the pro-establishment camp has accused Dr. Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung of the Labor Party and myself of paying too many official visits to prisons in our capacity as lawmakers.

Some have even proposed to take their complaint to the general meeting of the Legislative Council and demand that the Security Bureau impose restrictions on official visits to prisons by lawmakers.

Defending the civil rights of inmates has always been one of my prime concerns.

The recent appalling case of some 50 inmates in one of a juvenile detention center who were found to have been subjected to continued and systematic physical abuse by guards would probably never have come to light if Dr. Cheung and I had not insisted on visiting prisons regularly.

Members of the pro-establishment camp may have their own political agenda in lashing out at us.

However, they shouldn't forget that paying regular visits to our prisons to listen to the inmates' views and address their needs is part of our official duties as Legco members.

As such, restricting our access to inmates would only undermine their right to be heard.

Even though inmates' freedom of movement is taken away temporarily as a punishment for their wrongdoings, it doesn't mean their civil rights can be taken away as well.

Our prisons have remained so ridden with problems that there is currently very little guarantee for the rights of inmates, and in most cases all they can do is resign themselves to unfair treatment.

For example, our current statutory minimum wage actually doesn't apply to inmates. As a result, even the most skilled among them only get paid a ridiculous HK$192 for their panel labor per week.

On the other hand, the prison food menu has been designed on the basis of racial stereotypes: ethnic Chinese inmates are only allowed to have Chinese food, Caucasian inmates only western food, while South Asian inmates are only allowed to have curries!

That different racial groups in our prisons are subjected to fixed menus would not only fuel grievances among inmates, but may also give rise to racial tensions.

These are only some of the problems. To address the issue, I, along with my pan-democratic colleagues, will arrange for a meeting with the Commissioner of Correctional Services as soon as possible and demand immediate remedies.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Sept. 22

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Legislative Council member