Wedding bells behind bars? The Post looks at family rights for Hong Kong prisoners

One of 45 Hong Kong opposition figures convicted of conspiracy to subvert state power was revealed to have married while behind bars during pleas in mitigation at a court hearing on Tuesday.

Nigel Kat SC, who appeared for Tiffany Yuen Ka-wai, a former district councillor, told judges at West Kowloon Court that she wanted to start afresh with her husband after she completed her sentence.

Here the Post explores the family rights of inmates, from getting married without leaving prison to paying their last respects to loved ones.

1. How can they get married?

An inmate who wants to get married can make an application to the rehabilitation unit in whichever institution they are held. Once the application is approved, the inmate’s family members can hire a civil marriage celebrant to arrange the wedding with the Marriage Registry and carry out the ceremony.

Marriages between inmates held in different institutions are permitted.

If one half of the couple is not in jail, they or their lawyer can start the proceedings by making a booking with the Marriage Registry then contacting the Correctional Services Department to set a date for the ceremony, to be held inside a prison.

2. What would their ceremony be like?

Alex Lam Chi-yau, a lawyer who has handled two marriages celebrated in prison, said wedding ceremonies for inmates took place in the room usually reserved for visits from lawyers.

“The room is around 2.5 metres by 3 metres [eight feet by 10 feet]. There will be a table and a few chairs arranged,” Lam said, adding that no decorations would be provided or allowed.

Lam said he had accompanied the bride and two witnesses, both relatives of the couple, to an institution and entered after a series of security checks. The inmate groom was escorted to the room by prison officers. He was allowed to wear a suit and was not handcuffed.

Former district councillor Tiffany Yuen got married while behind bars. Photo: Facebook / @Tiffany Yuen Ka-wai

The civil celebrant of marriages said the couples were allowed some physical contact with one another, such as a hug and a quick kiss, after they exchanged wedding rings. Prison staff would also help take photos of the couple.

The couple and their witnesses could stay and talk for a short time before the inmate was taken away.

The inmate’s wedding ring would have to be removed from the facility after the ceremony or put in the property bag held by the prison.

Lam said the two ceremonies he had handled each lasted around 30 minutes.

“They were happy occasions. The grooms were gleeful and so were the brides, the witnesses also looked joyful,” he added.

“Correctional staff were relaxed as well – they weren’t austere and were very accommodating.”

3. Can inmates attend funerals of loved ones?

Inmates can apply for permission from their institution to the commissioner of correctional services, but authorities will consider a variety of factors, including the jail term imposed, the offence, criminal records, escape risk, pedestrian flow and security at the site of the funeral.

The department said on its website that the security risk was “one of the important considerations”.

Former Democratic Party chairman Wu Chi-wai, who had pleaded guilty to conspiracy to subvert state power under the 2020 Beijing-imposed national security law, had to apply to the High Court for bail to attend his father’s funeral in 2021, just months after his arrest, after prison authorities rejected his application to leave custody.

He was allowed to attend the private service after he lodged an appeal and the prosecution agreed to a special arrangement on humanitarian grounds.

Wu, 61, made another application in February to attend his mother’s funeral.

He was allowed 25 minutes to attend the service, supervised by prison officers.

Inmates exercise at the high security Stanley Prison in Hong Kong. Photo: Xiaomei Chen

4. How often do inmates get to see their young children?

Children who are aged below three years can live inside an institution with their inmate mother. The incarcerated mother will be allowed to take care of a child full-time until they reach the age of three.

Those under three who do not live with their mothers can stay with them for a week during the Lunar New Year, Easter and Christmas holidays under a pilot scheme which started in 2023.

The Hei Ling Chau Addiction Treatment Centre, Tong Fuk Correctional Institution and Stanley Prison in 2023 started parent-child centres for male inmates to have face-to-face time with their children aged under 11.

The city’s two prisons for women have the same arrangement.

Inmates can have two 30-minute social visits a month from family and friends.

Those held on remand can have one 15-minute visit every day.

Their children can see their parents behind a glass panel and talk to them through a phone system.



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