A British surgeon who has been working in Hong Kong for 25 years, yesterday described the arrest and abuse of doctors, nurses and first aiders at recent protests in Hong Kong, as well as other abuses of Hong Kong’s health system, as a violation of international norms at a meeting hosted by Lord Alton of Liverpool, Patron of Hong Kong Watch, in the House of Lords yesterday afternoon.
Among the attendees were the former Lord Chancellor Lord Mackay of Clashfern, the former leader of the Liberal Party Lord Steel of Aikwood, the former leader of the Green Party Baroness Bennett, the former defence minister Lord Hamilton of Epsom and the chair of the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission Fiona Bruce MP, who is also a Hong Kong Watch Patron.
Dr. Darren Mann, who first brought the evidence to international attention in an article in the world’s leading medical journal The Lancet on 21 November 2019, described witnessing the arrest of medical personnel who had been providing vital medical care to those injured during a violent confrontation at Hong Kong’s Polytechnic University on the night of 17 November 2019.
A photograph showed at least 16 medical professionals sitting in rows on the ground with their hands bound behind their backs with zip-cords. They were clearly identified as doctors, nurses and emergency medical technicians by their high-visibility vests, and yet were arrested for rioting. They were detained for 24 hours, released on bail and are now required to report to the police every week. They may also face the threat of disciplinary action by their hospitals for being present at the protests, even though they were voluntarily offering their assistance to any injured person on the principle of humanitarian neutrality. The pretext for these arrests – that protesters may be masquerading as medical workers – is entirely unconvincing and demonstrates dangerously misplaced priorities, said Dr. Mann.
Dr. Mann also reported worrying indications of wider encroachment on the healthcare sector and infrastructure. There is evidence that ambulances have been used to transport police and instances where police have entered hospitals to arrest protesters, maintaining a presence in full riot gear with weapons. There are credible accounts that police sought to accompany doctors in hospitals during consultations and even attempted to enter operating theatres.
Large numbers of the Hong Kong public are afraid to use the emergency services or go to public hospitals for fear that they could be arrested, and this can be considered as ‘weaponising’ the healthcare system against the protest movement, Dr. Mann told the meeting in Parliament. He also described how an underground medical system has emerged in which the injured prefer to be treated with their confidentiality and dignity respected.
“These violations amount to grave breaches of international norms and human rights law,” said Dr. Mann. “In any violent conflict, the protection of humanitarian workers is absolutely essential. Arresting or obstructing medical workers, and thereby preventing them from treating the injured, is a serious human rights abuse and sends a chilling message to deter other volunteer medics from assisting in providing medical care in protests. These actions should be condemned.”
“The continuing failure of the Hong Kong police and government to acknowledge any deficiency in, and offer future reassurances for, the treatment of humanitarian aid providers during these protests is damaging to China’s reputation abroad and to its standing within the international medical community. Sadly the Hong Kong government appears to be unaware that its policies are deviating from customary norms, and there is an urgent need for international governments and humanitarian organisations to scrutinise the operational conduct of the Hong Kong police with respect not only to medical aid workers but also the wider healthcare sector”.