Police confiscate masks from arrestees, provide them with poor quality masks, and then change the measures after the discovery

The police arrested a large number of people in Mongkok and Prince Edward on the night of 31st March. Mongkok East District Councillor Lam Siu-bun found that a member of the public who was arrested that night was confiscated by the police of the surgical masks he was wearing after entering the police station. The police claimed that the masks would be used as evidence and that slim two-layer masks would be distributed for use by arrestees. The arrested man, Ball Jai (alias), was taken to Hung Hom Police Station that night and asked to remove all clothing and accessories as evidence, including masks. He was given a “paper-thin” mask only 15 minutes later and was not given a new one during his 20-hour detention. “Is it because the police want to show authority and the arrested people are inferior? Are the arrestees not worth a proper mask?” Only today did the police reply that the arrested person had been issued with a CSI mask since 2nd April.

Lam Siu-bun prepared a total of 250 surgical masks from the night of 31st March to the early morning of 1st April, hoping to deliver them to the arrested persons at Mong Kok Police Station and Hung Hom Police Station through volunteer lawyers, but the handling criteria of the police had been inconsistent. “Sometimes access is allowed if the wire was removed (at the bridge of the mouthpiece), and sometimes they allow access directly (without removing).” As a result, most of the arrestees at Mongkok Police Station were given masks that night, and many of the arrestees at Hung Hom Police Station who were arrested at the early stage were also given masks, but many of the arrestees who arrived later could not get them.

Lam said he understood the police’s request to remove the wire might involve security considerations were involved, but the focus was not just on the wire, but on whether the mask provided by the police to the arrested person was a conforming mask with a three-layer structure and a melt spray cloth in the middle. He collected a mask provided by the police to an arrestee on 31st March. After disinfection, he cut it open for inspection and found that the mask had only two layers, not only was the texture “paper thin”, but the key was the lack of a melt spray cloth in the middle layer, the effectiveness of which was doubtful. Ball Jai, who was arrested in Prince Edward area that night and was later taken to Hung Hom Police Station. He recalled that after entering the police station and meeting with the Duty Officer, he was asked to take off his clothes and accessories as evidence, including the mask he was wearing. He waited without a mask for 15 minutes before the officers removed an extremely thin mask from a thin mask box and handed it out. Ball Jai confessed that he was in a bad mood after his arrest and was afraid that he might be subjected to police brutality if he questioned the quality of his mask or asked for it to be replaced. Apart from the poor quality of the masks, Ball Jai said that the hygiene condition of the “stinkers (detention room)” was also extremely poor. The toilet was an uncovered squatting toilet shared by several people, all of whom were just wearing paper slippers and stepping on the flushing pedals. There is only one fan in the entire detention room, the room was extremely poorly ventilated. Ball Jai said he had been wearing the ultra-thin mask for about 10 minutes and found it difficult to breathe, but did not dare to ask the police for a new mask, which he eventually wore for 20 hours. He said, “If I get Wuhan pneumonia (COVID-19), I would have got it at the police station.”

Miss A, a family member of an arrested person, was interviewed by phone at a press conference that night. She recalled trying to deliver masks to family members at the police station that night with great difficulty. “I tried to bring the mask in through a volunteer lawyer, the first officer who claimed I could do so, and then another said I could not provide masks.”  Miss A criticised the lack of consistency. “The police don’t even care about basic human rights to arrested people, I don’t know what the police are doing!” In the end, she was unable to deliver masks to her family, who had to replace several masks a night because paper masks were too easy to break.

Lam Siu-bun said that with the diagnosis of police officers, it was difficult to rule out the presence of viral bacteria in police stations. The provision of substandard masks to arrested persons “may kill people at any time”, and ensuring that arrested persons take proper precautions against epidemics is in fact a safeguard for police officers as well. He has submitted a motion to the Yau Tsim Mong District Council requesting the Police to explain the reasons for confiscating the masks from the arrested persons, give an account of the specifications of the masks provided by the police, and publicly undertake as soon as possible to provide the arrested persons with proper masks. Lam stressed that the above is a simple and humble request which concerns basic human rights. “Hopefully we do not have to wait until the District Council meeting on April 11, the police will respond as soon as possible.”

Apple Daily has asked the police about the incident and has not received a reply. Subsequently, the police posted on Facebook that the arrangement for the issue of masks to detainees had been adjusted with effect from 2nd April to provide surgical masks produced by the Correctional Industries to detainees instead, so as to protect the safety of detainees and others and reduce the risk of virus transmission.

The Police also pointed out that in the past, there had been cases of detainees using the wires inside surgical masks for self-harm, so the Police had earlier provided a two-layer structure and a mask without wires for use by detainees.

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