Almost 3 weeks on hunger strike: The Castle Peak black prison keeps disregarding human lives, while supporters are breaking the boundaries of sex and ethnicity

By grassmediaction

 

Recently, media has widely covered the inhuman treatment against detainees inside Castle Peak Bay Immigration Centre (CIC). On 29 June 2020, over 20 detainees from India, Pakistan and Africa started on an indefinite hunger strike to protest against their endless and unexplained detention by the Immigration Department. They have been detained for a period of 2 months to nearly 2 years, six of which for more than a year. Until today (16 July), the hunger strike has lasted for 18 days, and the number of hunger strikers has raised to 28. Yet, the Department has not informed the strikers of any detention limit, nor has it responded to their medical needs. 

At 11:00 a.m. yesterday morning (15 July), CIC detainees’ right concern group and volunteers, together with relatives and friends of the hunger strikers, former detainees and supporters gathered outside the Immigration Tower in Wanchai to stand with the hunger strikers. They presented a ‘gift’ to Incumbent Au Ka-wang, the newly appointed Director of Immigration Department: a ‘human rights’ cake with a traditional Chinese virtue ‘To be discreet is to be charitable’, asking the Director to think of those who are currently on hunger strike with suicide notes in hand, whose lives are in danger under his management, while celebrating his promotion. The Director, however, refused to receive the gift. Complying with the public gathering ban of four, the protest was still disturbed and eventually cut by the police while speakers were making statements.

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Hunger strikers determined to die for their demands, CIC issued Panadol in response

In reply to an earlier media inquiry, the Immigration Department claimed that the physical and emotional condition of the hunger strikers were roughly stable. To the contrary, during the social visits by CIC concern group last weekend, the strikers appeared very weak. Some of them had headaches and became forgetful. Some had kept asking for a doctor with no replies. Fish, a member of the concern group described the strikers as ‘extremely desperate’. Two strikers have left their suicide notes, one of which even told his mother to “treat your son as dead”. 

Fish said the lack of appropriate medical treatment is what concerns the strikers most. One striker has a tumour in his left arm. He said even when he was in prison during 2015, he was allowed to visit Queen Mary Hospital once a month and received prescribed medicine. However, when he was detained by the Immigration Department, the doctor of CIC clinic never gave him the medicine he was taking. Instead, he received the same drug which is ineffective to treat his tumour and his situation is worsening. According to the experience of many detainees, the CIC doctor only issues panadol whatever the illness is, Fish added. Likewise, an earlier report says an Indonesian detainee has lost her two fingers inside CIC due to the lack of appropriate medicine after her underwent finger connection operation. It is suspected that only panadol was issued in that case as well. Under such a desperate situation, the hunger strikers are planning to escalate their action by rejecting any water or drinks, which is intensely worrying. Again Fish requested on behalf of CIC concern group to have a meeting with the Director of Immigration, hoping he would recognize those hunger strikers who are suffering inside a place he is in charge, while he was celebrating his promotion. They demand the immediate release of the detainees.

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Members of CIC concern group handmade a ‘human rights’ cake with sugar gum, carrying the message of a traditional Chinese virtue ‘To be discreet is to be charitable’, but was rejected by the Director.

 

Three days ago (13 July), CIC concern group held an urgent press conference with lawmakers Shiu Ka-chun, Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung and Eddie Chu Hoi-dick to report on the situation of hunger strikers. Anna, a member of the concern group, said the strikers come from India, Pakistan, Africa and other countries. They are all male aged 20 to 50. Some are rehabilitated offenders, among whom many were released earlier because of their good behaviour in prison. Some have clear criminal record waiting for their asylum-seeking application result or appeal. Currently, they only intake water and milk tea. One striker was already sent to the hospital. Unfortunately, Anna explained that this is not the first time a hunger strike happens inside CIC. They happened at least in 2000, 2006, 2008, 2009, 2017 and 2018 respectively. Such a high frequency revealed the poor condition of CIC, which has forced innumerable detainees to commit self-harm in hope of release. Strikers also described the indifference of the Immigration officers, who have asked them to “keep waiting” and said “if you refuse to eat, then die” repeatedly for 7 times. What’s worse, strikers complain that the sanitary condition inside CIC is poor. Mice are around, and the internal sanitation becomes a big concern under the new wave of COVID-19.

Relatives and friends of hunger strikers: The immigration system is unfair

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Li Ka Singh is a close friend of Harjang Singh, an Indian hunger striker. He told the public that during his visit last week, his friend seemed ‘very unwell’. As his friend is already in his fifties, Li Ka Singh worried that he can no longer afford the strike. He requested the Department to release his friend as soon as possible.

Born and raised in Hong Kong, Li Ka Singh can speak fluent Cantonese. He likes to introduce himself as “Lee Ka Shing” (a Hong Kong billionaire) in front of the media as friends all call him so. He was born locally in 1981. At the age of 18, he met Harjang Singh in the Khalsa Diwan Sikh Temple situated in Wanchai and became close mates since then. At that time, Harjang Singh was in his twenties. He migrated to Hong Kong in 1996 as a dependent of his mother, who has been working here. He then met his wife, a Hong Kong permanent resident, and gave birth to his daughter in Hong Kong. 7 years for a permanent residency, but Harjang Singh was convicted and sentenced to jail on his fifth year of stay. Consequently, the Immigration cancelled his right of abode in 2005. As he changed his religion from Sihk to Christian, he sought asylum locally for the fear of life threats once he went back India. He was granted a recognizance paper accordingly.

This time, as a rehabilitated offender, Harjang Singh was detained in CIC for 2 years after serving his term of imprisonment. “It’s totally unfair. ” Li Ka Singh criticized. “A person cannot be released after finishing his sentence. How come?…The (Immigration’s) decision (to detain) has no reason. Is he (Harjang Singh) a dangerous person? It (the Department) didn’t even say so. Two years (of detention) can make everybody mad, even a dog.” He didn’t learn about the terribel condition in CIC until some of his friends, who are ex-detainees, shared their experience with him.

Two mates, both rooted in Hong Kong, raising families and building up their community, but only one can stay. The other has to leave because of the lack of a Hong Kong identification card. Li Ka Singh feels exceptionally unfair: “Can you imagine? He lives in Hong Kong for 26 years without returning to India once. He’s now 50 or so. Nobody knows him back in India. His family are all here in Hong Kong.” Currently, Harjang Singh’s representative lawyer is lodging a judicial review against the Department’s removal order. Meanwhile, he is facing a deportation order forbidding him to visit Hong Kong again. His torture claim is still in progress.

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33569-03 is the detention number of Harjang Singh 

Mr. Vhagtsingh from Bhagt Singh Sihk Community in Hong Kong gave a speech during the protest. As an Indian born and raised locally, he believed himself and other sihk friends are part of Hong Kong. He showed his faith in the Hong Kong system: If one commits a crime, he must receives punishment, then he should be free. However, CIC revealed the ugliness of the system. He couldn’t believe there is such a serious violation of human rights in this city. Thus, he urged the Director of Immigration to release those detainees immediately. “No one is born bad. The situation, the environment make us bad. So please everybody, give a chance to become good.” said Mr. Vhagtsingh.

Volunteers feel entrusted by the strikers. Former detainee’s struggle is continuing

Last weekend, CIC concern group called for a group of volunteers to visit the hunger strikers and to know their situation and needs. Tony is one of the volunteers. It was the first time he entered CIC. As he has never met with the striker before, he could only rely on a photo shown to him briefly by the Immigration officer when he did the registration in CIC. Yet, he was still unable to recognize the striker in the visiting room, as the person behind the glass wall was much thinner than that in the photo. The detainee in front of him is an Indian, whose torture claim was rejected. He lodged a judicial review against the decision, but was still detained for one and a half years. He said the Immigration officers have separated the hunger strikers and arranged them in small rooms so that they had no idea what’s going on with each other. T

he visit was on Sunday. Just a day ago, a striker felt unwell and asked for a doctor for 5 hours with no replies. During the visit, Tony recalled that he sometimes couldn’t catch the words of the detainee, but he knew the striker was too weak to repeat or to speak louder – even though he already seemed better than the others.

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CIC concern group and volunteers

Miss Fok, another volunteer, visited a Pakistani hunger striker. He sought asylum in Hong Kong in 2007, but was intercepted by the police on a taxi in 2014 and drugs were found. Although he told the court it was the taxi driver who possessed the drugs, he was sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment. Due to his appeal and good behaviour in prison, he was released after 6 years. Just before freedom comes on 23 May this year, he was immediately sent to CIC. Multiple requests for bail went in vein. He said he was anxious inside CIC. When asked for treatment, the CIC doctor would only briefly checked for the blood sugar. Detainees’ health condition was what the Immigration officers care about least, he said. 

Miss Fok left her contact during the visit, and received a call from the striker 3 days later, expressing his gratitude for her visit. Miss Fok felt complicated when she received the call. She was moved on the one hand, as she knew detainees can only make a 3-minute call every week to reach out. On the other hand, she felt guilty since what she did to help is minimal – she couldn’t even pronounce the striker’s name correctly. Via the phone call, however, the striker emphasized that he would continue the strike with volunteers’ support. Miss Fok said she would keep visiting and invite more volunteers to provide assistance to hunger strikers and other detainees.

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As Director of Immigration refused to receive the ‘human rights’ cake or to meet with protesters, Miss Fok could only express her demands in front of a mirror.

S, a Nepalese ex-detainee, was the ‘CIC guide’ of the volunteer team. While she was seeking asylum in Hong Kong due to Nepalese civil war, she was arbitrarily detained twice. The first time for 4 months, for which she was awarded damages for illegal detention. The second period was 3 months and 21 days. She was just released at the end of 2019. (For detailed report, click here) Since her release, S actively looked for press coverage of the poor condition inside CIC and found lawyers to discuss the possibilities of any legal action. She got in touch with the concern group and volunteers earlier this year. What follows is her participation in a range of solidarity actions: weekly visits to CIC, distributing leaflet about detainee’s rights to visitors, collecting questionnaires on detainees’ condition including their detention period and any mistreatment suffered.

Receiving notice of the hunger strike at the beginning of this month, S also joined the protest action with relatives and friends of the strikers and other supporters outside CIC on 5 July. Last weekend, she led the volunteer team with the concern group to visit 20 hunger strikers in CIC, explaining the procedure of social visits and articles allowed to hand in. “I support them (current detainees) because I’ve  suffered there (CIC). I know how difficult the world is inside CIC. There is no humanity…The problems remain the same, and this time it’s the Indians (hunger strikers) who continued the struggle. We need an answer.”

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Members of the concern group drew several pictures describing the terrible situation inside CIC. This one is S’ favourite. During her detention, she always witnessed Immigration officers shouting at detainees with no reasons and ordered them to mop the floor or clean the toilet as punishment.

Being detained: The same torture regardless of sex and ethnicity

Midnight Blue, a self-help group among male sex workers, has participated in several protest actions in support of the hunger strikers. According to Kin, the executive officer,  Midnight Blue has followed around 60 cases of detainees in CIC since 2013 who are transgender sex workers. As the laws of Hong Kong provide no protection for sex workers, even though sex work is not illegal, workers are easily charged with other crimes targeting them. For instance, foreign sex workers are usually charged with ‘soliciting for an immoral purpose’ or ‘breach of condition of stay’.

Once arrested, transgender workers will be sent to Siu Lam Psychiatric Centre. As they are mostly from Southeast Asia, what awaits after sentence is deportation. While waiting for being deported, they will be detained in CIC. However, since the CIC officers have difficulty dealing with sex beyond male and female, trans detainees will definitely be solitarily confined, which is a torture. As recalled by transgender ex-detainees, the strong light in the cell stopped them from falling into sleep. Except for the 10-minute shower time, they were not allowed to move around. Nor were they permitted to talk with other detainees. The sanitation is also poor. Excrement were everywhere but no one would clean them up. “A day in CIC is more suffering than a month in Siu Lam.” They said.

When trans workers are detained in CIC, Midnight Blue will try their best to book flights for them to leave as soon as possible. Otherwise, it will take at least 1 to 2 weeks for the Immigration Department to buy them tickets. However, these acts are not welcomed by the officers, Kin added. They will even persuade Midnight Blue not to buy tickets themselves. Kin suspected this will complicate the procedure and increase their administrative workload. Besides, Kin explained that some trans workers are also asylum seekers. They seek asylum in Hong Kong as their transgender identity attracts life threats in their own countries. Nonetheless, compared to the stories he heard in the recent actions, Kin believed the workers they know are relatively lucky. At least they can still be released with recognizance paper, usually after a month of detention though. He said it is exceptionally unacceptable to detain asylum seekers indefinitely.

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Kin, the executive officer of Midnight Blue

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The placards prepared by Midnight Blue for the protest action outside CIC on 5 July

 

Sophie is a migrant activist engaging in the local movements. In her speech, she said many Hongkongers might once regard sentence in jail or prisoner’s rights as something distant from their daily life. Yet, experiencing the Anti-ELAB movement since last year, she believes people have realized that imprisonment is a tool utilized by the authorities to suppress the dissent. As people can now develop compassion for over 9,000 comrades, either in prison or losing their freedom in any ways, she believes people can feel the same pain as the hunger strikers in CIC, whose freedom should not be arbitrarily violated equally.

The inhuman treatment inside CIC is shameful, but for her, what counts as the most outrageous is the fact that those detainees are not supposed to be detained. In fact, she said many detainees are asylum seekers. They sought asylum because of the internal war, political or religious persecution in their own countries, just like a lot of Hongkongers in excile nowadays. She remembered earlier when Ray Wong (a Hong Kong independence activist, one of the founders of Hong Kong Indigenous, currently a refugee in Germany) talked about his 1-year detention in the German refugee camp, he mentioned the serious human rights violation inside and even thought about committing suicide. Sophie believes the situation in CIC is exactly what thousands of exciled comrades are facing: being treated indifferently, excluded and left alone without assistance. Thus, she appealed to Hongkongers who are still capable to stay in this city to fight for detainees’ demand to improve the immigration system, as “supporting them is actually supporting ourselves.”

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Sophie, one of the supporters

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[What you can do to help]

Urgent Petition: Solidarity with people on hunger strike for almost 3 weeks at CIC, Stop indefinite detention! Sign here: https://forms.gle/gVzAeDzRUVoekRfp8

Full version of the petition: https://wp.me/p2HdPx-5Dx

 

[Learn more]

  1. ‘Let the sunshine in’: The shout of ex-detainees from the black prison, Castle Peak Bay Immigration Center (CIC): https://wp.me/p2HdPx-5r0
  2. Solidarity with people on the 17th day of hunger strikers at CIC: https://wp.me/p2HdPx-5C0
  3. Action in Support of 7th Day of Hunger Strike by Detainees at Castle Peak Bay Immigration Centre: https://wp.me/p2HdPx-5yx
  4. Breaking: 19 Detainees at Castle Peak Bay Immigration Centre (CIC) Enter Second Day of Indefinite Hunger Strike: https://wp.me/p2HdPx-5y9

About 草 媒

草根媒體 grassmedia09@gmail.com

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