At least five anti-extradition bill protesters were arrested at public hospitals whilst seeking treatment, a group of 82 medical and legal professionals said on Sunday. They accused the police of spreading “white terror.”
The group said at a press conference that three protesters were arrested at Queen Elizabeth Hospital, one at Kwong Wah Hospital and one at Yan Chai Hospital. Of the five, four were held on suspicion of rioting and one for unlawful assembly.
They said the police should “behave,” and stop harassing health care providers and patients and respect the privacy of those being treated.
Alfred Wong, a medical sector elector in the chief executive election committee, said a police officer must fulfil legal requirements before obtaining information from hospitals.
“The law does not say that a police officer can just come and ask for certain information. Police are not the law,” Wong, also a public hospital doctor, said. “They must follow existing procedures. If the patient does not agree, they must apply for a search order, and file a request for a medical report.”
During the June 12 protests, tear gas, rubber bullets and bean bags were deployed to clear protesters occupying roads, as crowds pushed forward into police lines throwing objects. At least 76 were injured and 32 were arrested, including eight who were released unconditionally later.
Hung Tsz-yin, a health service sector elector of the chief executive election committee, said that some police officers did not wear their warrant cards and showed up at medical cubicles to eavesdrop on medical staff after the protests. Hung did not mention which hospital was involved, in order to protect the medical staff.
“One used a rather threatening tone and told nurses to give them patients’ information,” Hung said, apparently referring to accusations that some nurses gave patient data to the police. “Nurses were already very busy. When they were threatened to give certain information, they were concerned over needing to bear legal responsibility.”
Hung urged the public to understand the pressure that nurses have faced recently, because they have never been put under such situations.
Chris Ng, convener of the Progressive Lawyers’ Group, said the admissibility evidence gathered at hospitals may be challenged in court if it was gathered by police in an unlawful manner. But he said police may also point to evidence that was not gathered at hospitals.
In response, the police posted on its Facebook page on Sunday night that – under section 50 of the Police Force Ordinance – it is lawful for police officers to apprehend anyone who they reasonably suspect of being guilty of jail-able offences. It said an arrest can be made without a warrant.
It said officers stationed at emergency rooms will actively follow up with cases in which patients have suspicious wounds.
“Police will not block anyone from receiving treatment at hospital when investigating any cases or performing any operations,” it said. “Police absolutely respect patients’ privacy and their other rights including hiring a legal representative.”
In response to the controversy, a spokesperson for Queen Elizabeth Hospital said on Monday that it will enact its existing complaint-handling mechanism to request a report on the improper handling of data by frontline A&E staff.
Last Monday, Hong Kong’s medical sector lawmaker said that he had proof that police can access the Hospital Authority’s system to check details of injured protesters who were admitted into the public hospital system, without using any special logins.
The Authority later announced the establishment of a special task group to conduct a quick and focused review into information technology security. But it maintained no access to its Accident and Emergency information system was given to any government department, including the police.
Article originally appeared in Hong Kong Free Press on 31 May 2019