Three Hong Kong women have accused court police officers of conducting unreasonable strip searches while they were in courtroom holding cells.

The three women along with 13 men were arrested outside Tsim Sha Tsui Police Station on August 11 on charges of illegal assembly. One was also charged with rioting, the Sing Tao Daily reported.

A defense lawyer complained to the Kowloon City Magistrates’ Court on Wednesday that three female defendants, aged between 18 and 27, were asked by a female courtroom officer to take off all their clothes and underclothes so a search could be done in a holding cell.

The strip searches happened on August 13 and 15 when the three had their first court appearances. The defense lawyer said it was unnecessary for police to conduct such stringent body searches.

One of the defendants surnamed Leung had been searched once in Tsim Sha Tsui police station when she was arrested on August 11, the court heard.

She was then taken to San Uk Ling Holding Center in remote Sheung Shui in the New Territories, where police officers conducted a body search for a second time.

Leung was taken to court on August 13. The courtroom officer conducted a strip search on her in the holding cell.

While the other two female defendants faced the same strip search in the courtroom holding cell, the other 13 defendants, all-male, did not need to do so.

Defense lawyers told the court on Wednesday that two defendants could provide the holding room number and they could recognize the officer who conducted the search.

Meanwhile, Leung’s defense lawyer also told the court that they may apply at the High Court, asking the relevant department to disclose surveillance camera footage of the courtroom, as well as the roster of police officers, the Ming Pao Daily reported.

A defense lawyer said outside the court that they had sent inquiries to the court and police force about disclosure of the footage. While the court said they did not own the video clips, the police side, represented by the department of justice, asked them not to make an application to the High Court at the moment.

Barrister Albert Luk Wai-hung said although the police had the right to conduct body searches in the court, it was rare to conduct strip searches. Luk said strip searches were conducted on cases like drug trafficking or possession of illegal drugs.

As the defendants were charged with illegal assembly, adding that no strip searches were conducted on the male defendants, Luk also questioned why the searches were done.

According to Police General Orders, officers should not request a detainee to be naked when searched.

Meanwhile, four police officers’ associations wrote an open letter to Rocky Tuan, the vice-chancellor of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, criticizing his management, Radio Television Hong Kong reported.

The letter was jointly issued on Wednesday by the Superintendents’ Association, the Hong Kong Police Inspectors’ Association, the Overseas Inspectors’ Association and the Junior Police Officers’ Association.

The criticism came after Tuan said last week that he would call on Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor to initiate an independent investigation into allegations of abuse and misconduct made by his some 20 students against the police force.

The police groups questioned Tuan for not questioning the students’ claims of police abuse when he pledged to condemn the force for any “proven case” of brutality.

The group said it deeply regretted that Tuan had made no mention of the serious offences his students were allegedly involved in.

They also questioned whether Tuan understood the rule of law, criticizing him for making the “ridiculous” suggestion of initiating an independent investigation of the police.

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