Police Spread White Terror by Arresting Protestors at Hospitals, Doctors Say

The Hong Kong police stand accused of breaching the normal procedures by arresting protestors with the assistance from the Hospital Authority (HA), prompting the legal and medical professionals to denounce it as “white terror”.  

Following the violent clashes between the police and the protestors outside LegCo on June 12, five protestors were arrested in the evening while undergoing treatment at public hospitals. Police officers were believed to have been in plainclothes and to have asked frontline medical staff how some patients became injured in order to identify and arrest the protestors. 

 “White Terror”

The move has angered the legal and medical professionals who called on the police to ‘behave’ and accused the force of spreading ‘white terror’ – a term denoting unfair arrests.

They said the police have “deterred civilians from seeking medical help in hospitals, which is unfortunately a public health crisis in the making.”

“Hindrance of patient care and nuisance caused to health care workers must cease,” a joint statement read. They emphasize that the police must go through correct legal channels to secure warrants in order to access medical records of civilians. 

“[The police] have put pressure on our colleagues, to the point that some of them were pushed to the limit of breaching our own code of professional conduct,” Alfred Wong, spokesman of local pro-democracy group Médecins Inspirés, told Harbour Times.

He urged the HA to give guidelines on how to comply with professional conduct, especially when “dealing with people who are trying to exert pressure on us,” and also for the police to “behave and restrain their actions within clinical areas, respect the privacy of patients, and stop impeding our clinical service.”

Breach of privacy law

Pierre Chan, a lawmaker representing the medical sector, also suspected the Hospital Authority leaked patient information as it required the patients to be labelled as ‘police, reporter, civilian, or others’, leading to questions over whether it was colluding with the police. 

The Hospital Authority denied the accusation quickly, stressing that it “did not give any information of patients to the police” at an unusual press conference held at 11 pm on the same day. 

“Patients were arrested while seeking medical services; this has been confirmed by [the]  press, the HA and the police force. This is a fact,” Chan told Harbour Times. “When the police were dressed in plainclothes, it would be difficult for the medical workers to identify them.”

While it is not clear how the police got hold of the patients’ information, Chan said such a loophole must be closed. 

Citing the Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance, Chan said: “Although personal data privacy is important, some things can override this, such as court orders, infectious diseases that need to be reported to the health authorities, life and death, but not for police suspicions.”

In a statement that read “privacy is not an open door for bullying and intimidation, not a spear for arbitrary enforcement of laws, and not a shield for law-defying actions”, the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data said it has received 32 complaints and queries regarding medical staff handing patients’ information to the police without authorization.  

“Abuse of Power”

Before the legal and medical professionals condemned the police for disrupting the health care service in order to arrest protestors, the police had already been under fire for using excessive force against the protestors and the press.

On June 12, the police fired over 150 rounds of tear gas and several rubber bullets – a much more aggressive response compared to the 87 rounds of tear gas used at the 79-day long protest in 2014.

Two million people took to the streets the following Sunday, holding signs that read “Stop Killing Us” and chanting “Corrupt Cops”. Human rights group Amnesty International posted verified evidence of police violence regarding the protest on June 12, saying that “police must be held accountable for unlawful use of force”.

Many question as to whether the police officers will be held accountable for their violent actions and breaches of law. 

Currently, complaints against the police are reviewed internally by the police, and complainants can resort to the Independent Police Complaints Council if they do not accept the preliminary result. But the Council is largely seen as ineffective as it can only review the internal report compiled by the police instead of investigating the case. Over the past 9 years, only 3-4% of the complaints have been determined valid. 

Zehra Jafree contributed to this report.