Since 9 June, Civil Rights Observer has been providing emergency legal support for those arrested as a result of the ongoing demonstrations. This includes assigning pro bono lawyers to police stations and detention facilities to provide legal services to arrested persons, in order to protect their legal rights and basic human rights. In its press conference today, the Police asserted that they made the necessary arrangements to enable arrested persons to exercise their right to timely legal assistance. However, we believe that such assertions are far from the truth. The response of Civil Rights Observer is as follows:
1. On 11 August 2019, 54 persons were arrested during the demonstration. Over 10 pro bono lawyers from various organisations, including Civil Rights Observer, immediately rushed to San Uk Ling Holding Centre to request legal visits with the arrested persons. However, only 2 to 3 lawyers were able to successfully conduct their legal visits, as the majority of lawyers faced either rejections or unreasonable delays from the Police in meeting their clients;
2. According to reports from pro bono lawyers, the Police arranged one interview room and one pantry at the San Uk Ling Holding Centre for lawyers to meet with arrested persons. While conducting legal visits, Police officers prohibited lawyers from closing the door, causing the legal visits to be conducted in an extremely low-privacy setting. Such conduct violates the Basic Law guarantee of the right to confidential legal advice. Subsequently, the Police rejected requests from lawyers to meet arrested persons in the pantry, resulting in there only being one interview room in the entire San Uk Ling Holding Centre for legal visits, seriously hindering lawyers from conducting their work;
3. According to reports from pro bono lawyers, arrested persons were generally unable to exercise their right to obtain immediate legal assistance due to unreasonable obstructions from the Police. Many arrested persons were made to give cautioned statements before they had a chance to meet with their lawyer. There was also one reported case where an arrested person made 50 requests to meet with their lawyer, but was unable to do so until after they gave a cautioned statement with the Police. Furthermore, there were 3 cases where arrested persons were only able to obtain a legal visit 24 hours after making their initial request to meet their lawyer, but these 3 arrested persons had already given cautioned statements without the presence of their lawyers;
4. Civil Rights Observer questions whether the Police deliberately obstructed lawyers from providing legal assistance to arrested persons, in order to obtain more favourable prosecution evidence. By obstructing lawyers from meeting with their clients, arrested persons are more susceptible to various violations by the Police, such as being beaten by Police or having to undergo improper body searches. Such conduct by the Police completely violates the legal rights of arrested persons;
5. The Police allegedly arranged for arrested persons to be detained at San Uk Ling Holding Centre because it has sufficient space and facilities to manage large numbers of arrested persons, enabling the Police to better guarantee the rights of arrested persons. However, according to the experience of pro bono lawyers, such assertions by the Police are far from reality, considering that only one interview room was arranged for lawyers to meet with arrested persons. This is clearly unreasonable and is an obvious sign of mismanagement on the part of the Police, who have disregarded the legal rights of arrested persons;
6. In its 2016 Concluding Observations on Hong Kong, the United Nations Committee Against Torture recommended that the Hong Kong Government guarantee the rights of arrested persons, including the right to obtain legal assistance without delay, and the right to obtain timely and required medical services. Civil Rights Observer urges the Police to improve their practices according to the recommendations by the Committee Against Torture, in order to adequately protect the rights of arrested persons.