A banner outside the Hong Kong government's headquarters in Admiralty Photo: Almen Chui

The Hong Kong Police Force has been slammed for snooping on patients in hospitals and misleading the public over the siege at the police headquarters in Wan Chai last Friday, amid a growing lack of confidence in the police complaint system.

Tens of thousands of Hong Kongers protesting against a controversial extradition bill amendment besieged the headquarters, demanding the release of demonstrators arrested during the June 12 clashes outside the Legislative Council in Admiralty.

Reacting to the detention of five people suspected of taking part in the clashes at public hospitals after they sought treatment for injuries, around 80 members representing doctors, healthcare workers and legal sectors in the chief executive election committee on Sunday called on the police to “behave” and stop asking hospital staff members for patients’ information.

The group received numerous complaints from frontline healthcare workers who have accused police officers, including ones in plain clothes, of snooping around in public hospitals and demanding access to patients’ information.

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In one case, police officers, who did not show their warrant cards, barged into hospital cubicles to listen to nurses’ conversations. Some nurses also complained that they were verbally threatened by officers asking them to disclose patient’s details.

During a press conference, the group’s spokesman, Alfred Wong Yam-hong, who is a public hospital doctor, said staff fear the practice could deter injured protesters from seeking medical treatment in the future.

“The law does not say that a police officer can just come and ask for certain information. Police are not the law,” Wong said.

The group urged the police to adhere to existing procedures such as applying for search warrants and filing formal requests for medical reports.

Meanwhile, a police headquarters clerical worker refuted the police force’s claim that staff were trapped inside the building until midnight last Friday because of protesters surrounding the building. The worker sent a Facebook message to Roy Tsui, the founder of the popular satirical online media platform Most 100, attaching a staff card as proof of identity. The worker, who asked to remain anonymous, said staff members left through the main entrance on Arsenal Street at 1pm unobstructed by protesters.

Puzzled by the fact that pregnant and chronically ill workers had been forced to remain inside the police headquarters until midnight, the clerical worker asked, “Was it the protesters or the police force that did not allow them to leave the building?”

Many staff members were seen leaving the building without being obstructed through an exit near Harcourt Garden at 5pm.

The police issued a statement on Facebook on Saturday morning condemning the protesters who surrounded the police headquarters on Arsenal Street, saying they seriously affected the provision of emergency services.

Police said the report room service in Wan Chai had been suspended and that 60 calls to the 999 hotline in the Wan Chai Division could not be handled immediately, and extra resources had to be deployed.

Police said 13 staff members at the headquarters felt unwell and needed ambulances, but paramedics were unable to gain access to the building due to the protest. All were later discharged after hospital treatment.

The Hong Kong Fire Services Department confirmed that when five ambulances were called to the headquarters between 10pm and 10:36pm on Friday, they found protesters gathered along Fenwick Street and Jaffe Road. However, they said protesters did not block its paramedics, who had to wait for 20 minutes at the main entrance because they were told by officers that they were looking for the keys to open the gate.

Meanwhile, more groups joined the call for an independent commission of inquiry to be set up to examine the guidelines for the use of force by police officers against protesters.

Amnesty International published a report on Friday highlighting 14 incidents of excessive use of force by police officers against protesters during the June 12 clashes.

The Hong Kong Bar Association, 32 former government officials, lawmakers and politicians said an independent inquiry would serve the interests of both the public and the police.

It is believed that Lam’s administration and the pro-establishment camp are opposed to the idea. Instead, senior officials and the police chief are urging people to file formal complaints against the force.

Under the current mechanism, complaints are handled by the in-house Complaints Against Police Office under the supervision of the Independent Police Complaints Council.

Civil rights groups said that means “the police are investigating the police” and they are demanding that the system be reformed.

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