A Hong Kong woman arrested at an anti-government protest accused police on Friday of conducting a humiliating and unnecessary strip-search in violation of proper protocol.
The woman, who identified herself as Ms Lui, recounted her alleged trauma at a news conference on Friday. She appeared before covered in black and accompanied by lawmaker Tanya Chan and two lawyers.
“I want to ask the police: does being arrested mean our rights are deprived and we could be treated without basic respect for women?” Lui said.
She said she had suffered from depression after her arrest and was afraid of going outside with police in sight.
Police officials said the force would deal with the complaint seriously – but did not comment on the details of the case. The police said their body search procedures had not changed during the recent citywide protests.
Lui said she was arrested weeks ago at a protest against the now-abandoned extradition bill and was admitted to hospital for injuries she suffered that night. She would not disclose the date of her arrest, the name of the hospital or what crimes she was charged with. She said she had missed her first court appearance because she was still in hospital.
Lui said when she was discharged from the hospital, she changed into her own clothes with a woman police officer standing by.
She said she was supposed to be taken to the court from the hospital, but instead was taken to a nearby police station and confined to a room with two women officers.
“I was ordered by a policewoman to take off all my clothes,” said Lui, as her voice trembled.
“I asked why even my underwear had to be taken off, and she just said: ‘You are a criminal now, so we need to search your body’.”
Lui said she was too afraid to fight back, so she complied with the orders. She said she was embarrassed and tried to cover her genitals, but one of the officers hit her hands away.
She said she was ordered to squat and rise three times and turn around. By her account, one officer patted her thighs with a pen, instructing her to open her legs wider.
“Another woman officer watched me being insulted with a kind of enjoyment, glancing at me up and down,” Lui said. “The officer opened the door when it was over and I found more than 10 male officers standing outside. I felt so embarrassed, but I managed to hold back my tears.”
She said the body search took 15 to 30 minutes.
Lui said she refused to sign a form saying she had voluntarily submitted to the search.
Her lawyer, Benson Chan, said the procedure not in accordance with police procedure.
The only conclusion is that it was a blatant humiliation to her
Benson Chan, lawyer for Ms Liu
“Lui had already stayed in hospital wearing patient clothing for a few days. Is it possible for her to carry something prohibited?” Chan said. “The only conclusion is that it was a blatant humiliation to her.”
Chan said they would take the case to the Complaints Against Police Office (CAPO), and would file charges of indecent assault and assault against the two women officers.
Senior Superintendent Foo Yat-ting of the Kowloon East police declined to comment on the case at the daily police press conference, saying she had not known about the incident before Lui spoke to the media.
“If an arrested person find mistreatment during detention, they can lodge a complaint to CAPO,” she said.
She said the police would thoroughly investigate the complaint.
Foo said that, in principle, a strip-search would only be carried out by an officer of the same gender.
When deciding on the scope of a search, Foo said an officer should take into consideration factors such as the offences involved, previous criminal records, level of violence exhibited at arrest, previous records of self-harm and suicidal tendencies.
She said there were strict guidelines for all officers concerning body searches.
Hong Kong has been rocked by 11 straight weeks of protests sparked by the extradition bill that would have sent fugitives to jurisdictions with which Hong Kong does not have an agreement, notably mainland China
During this time, protesters have complained of police brutality and called for an inquiry into officers’ conduct.
Three policemen were arrested on Tuesday on suspicion of assaulting an elderly man who had been restrained on a stretcher at a public hospital for drunken behaviour.
Additional reporting by Clifford Lo
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