SCMP Friday, June 16, 2000

Increase in security at riot jail 'unnecessary'

KONG LAI-FAN


It would not be necessary to strengthen security at the Hei Ling Chau Addiction Treatment Centre where 35 people were injured in a riot this month, legislators said after a briefing by officials.

Security panel chairman James To Kun-sun said members at the 90-minute closed-door briefing did not challenge whether Correctional Services Department (CSD) officers could have reacted more quickly.

Lawmakers were told Marine police officers arrived on the island 20 minutes after the riot broke out at 7.03pm. An additional 140 armed police officers arrived one hour later. At 9.14pm, about 200 Police Tactical Unit officers arrived when the riot worsened.

Mr To said: "The legislators' preliminary conclusion is that the officers had entirely followed the [required] practice. Personally I do not think security has to be stepped up. The centre is for the rehabilitation of drug addicts. No riots have happened before this one. It would be an overreaction if the Government strengthened security there."

He urged the Government to invite two justices of the peace to join Secretary for Security Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee in vetting the final report into the violence. "The riot is related to the question of race, since there was a conflict between Vietnamese and local inmates. It is necessary to invite outsiders to join the investigation."

The riot erupted at Hei Ling Chau, off Lantau Island, on June 4. The conflict between Vietnamese and local inmates apparently arose over privileges given to the former. It was alleged a senior officer had given the Vietnamese inmates preferential treatment by allowing them to build a garden for him.

Thirty-five people were injured - four CSD officers, nine police officers and 22 inmates, including all 13 Vietnamese at the centre. Nine offices, a store room, a library, a cell and some workshops were ransacked and torched. Fifty-nine inmates identified as troublemakers were quickly transferred to Lai Chi Kok reception centre.

Officials have rejected a request by Emily Lau Wai-hing of The Frontier to set up an independent investigation.

Deputy Secretary for Security Chang King-yiu said the Commissioner of Correctional Services had already appointed Deputy Commissioner Cheng Chi-leung to study the issue, and Mr Cheng was independent from the department's operations division.

She has assured Mr To the investigations, to be completed within six weeks, would be fair and impartial.