Hong Kong activist wins long hair fight with prison bosses

Hong Kong activist wins long hair fight with prison bosses

Leung Kwok-hung acknowledges his supporters as he leaves Lai Chi Kok Detention Centre in July 2014. (South China Morning Post photo)
Leung Kwok-hung acknowledges his supporters as he leaves Lai Chi Kok Detention Centre in July 2014. (South China Morning Post photo)

Hong Kong’s top court has ruled that a prison requirement for male inmates to keep their hair short is a form of sexual discrimination, ending a six-year legal battle by an ousted opposition lawmaker who was forced to crop his shoulder-length locks while behind bars in 2014.

Five justices of the Court of Final Appeal on Friday sided unanimously with Leung Kwok-hung, nicknamed “Long Hair” for his trademark look, to grant him victory over the Correctional Services Department, which he took to court in 2014 after it refused his request to be spared a haircut.

Chief Justice Geoffrey Ma Tao-li, who took the leading role to write the judgment endorsed by his four colleagues, rejected the department’s assertion that hair length was tied closely to custodial discipline.

“It is not readily apparent, and no explanation was provided by the [commissioner of correctional services], as to why this had any reasonable connection with custodial discipline,” he said.

Ma also said the department, which argued it was only imposing a social norm, had failed to explain the basis of their suggestion that men always had shorter hair.

While the department argued there was a need to give less prominence to individuality, Ma said: “It is difficult to accept, without a proper explanation, why individual choices should be denied to male prisoners but not female ones, and what this selective denial of choices has to do with a de-emphasis on individuality anyway.”

Leung was jailed for four weeks for criminal damage and disorderly behaviour in June 2014, stemming from an incident at a public forum in Tsim Sha Tsui on Sept 1, 2011.

The request of the prison officers at Lai Chi Kok Reception Centre to cut his hair, which was shorn off despite Leung’s threat of court action, prompted the judicial challenge.

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