Some Hong Kong protesters alleged police tortured and sexually abused them after they were detained at the San Uk Ling Holding Center near the China border.

A rally in Edinburgh Place on Friday evening that organizers claimed about 50,000 people joined was held to show support for those who had been arrested and sent to the center, even after Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor and the police announced the facility would no longer be used to house detained demonstrators.

Police claimed only about 9,000 attended the rally.

The facility in a remote area on Man Kam Road in Sheung Shui had been the target of a number of complaints, with allegations that police had abused protesters and refused them access to medical treatment or to their lawyers.

Letter read out

On Friday night, the rally organizer read a letter on behalf of a man who alleged he was tortured by police at the center after he had been arrested and sent there.

The man said first he had been pepper-sprayed on his face when he was asked to unlock his mobile phone for police during his arrest. He could not resist as his hands were tied behind him.

The man said he was later taken to the San Uk Ling Holding Center where he heard screams from other men when he arrived.

He said was asked to take off his clothes for a search, then he said officers tied his legs and hands to the legs of a table. The man claimed one police officer put a mask over his head and he alleged two officers then took turns abusing him while they asked for the password to unlock his phone.

After the abuse, he claimed, the police washed him with water and antiseptic. The man alleged the police wanted to destroy any evidence.

The man said he had been detained in the center for 34 hours and officers denied him access to his lawyer.

Woman claims abuse

A woman who had been arrested and named only as “S” went on the rally stage and said a male officer had patted her on the breast at the Kwai Chung police station when he put a plastic band on her wrist.

The woman also said two female officers had looked at her private parts when she was using an uncovered toilet in a cell, while a group of male officers were chatting nearby.

Barrister Billy Li On-yin from the Progressive Lawyers Group told the crowd that he was denied entry and spent three hours waiting to see his client on August 12. The police told him there were not enough interview rooms available, which he later found out to be untrue.

Li said lawyers worried that some of those arrested would be beaten into making false confessions.

Another speaker, Claudia Yip from the Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor, said the alleged abuses, including being denied medical care or access to a lawyer, were not exclusive to San Uk Ling.

The center came into the spotlight when allegations of abuse were raised after 34 out of 54 people who were sent there after being arrested on August 11 were hospitalized, with six suffering serious bone fractures.

John Tse Chun-chung, the chief superintendent of the police public relations branch, said at last Friday’s press conference that a total of four groups of people were arrested and sent to San Uk Ling since August 5 and the highest number at the facility at any one time was 75.

Tse said no protesters had been detained in San Uk Ling since early September, but that had nothing to do with what he described as groundless accusations. He added that the police had received only two complaints relating to San Uk Ling and those complaints did not contain any allegations of sexual abuse.

A report by NGO Amnesty International found an alarming pattern of reckless and unlawful tactics used by Hong Kong police and 18 of the 21 people who were arrested and interviewed said they had to go to a hospital because they were beaten by police. Three had to spend at least five days in a hospital.

Many of those detained also accused police of preventing them from calling a lawyer.

The San Uk Ling Holding Center was set up in 1979. It mainly holds illegal immigrants before sending them back to mainland China. It also housed a number of Chinese dissidents after the Tiananmen Square student movement in Beijing on June 4, 1989, before they escaped overseas via Hong Kong.

It also held a number of South Korean farmers arrested during clashes with police during a World Trade Organization conference in 2005.

Read: HK police deny beating arrested protesters

Read: HK police deny framing, beating protester