Man tricked into working in Hong Kong, then forced to work unpaid, beaten: Lawyers

HONG KONG (AFP) - A man who lawyers say was tricked into coming to Hong Kong then forced to work unpaid and beaten by his employer appeared in court on Tuesday (Jan 12), in a case campaigners said highlighted the city's failure to stem human trafficking.

It comes after a recent report by the United Nations Committee Against Torture urged Hong Kong authorities to reform laws in order to protect trafficking victims.

The man's name, nationality and occupation cannot be published due to an anonymity order.

He was giving evidence at a judicial review into his case at the city's High Court, where his lawyers argued Hong Kong authorities had not acted to help him.

"This was a man from another country, a poor country... he was brought to Hong Kong by his employer in the circumstances involving deception as to conditions of work. He was forced to continue to work," said the man's lawyer Paul Harris.

"His account... does meet the definition of a victim of human trafficking."

Mr Harris added: "There seems to have been no investigation all the way up to today... the system is not clear enough."

The man, who arrived in Hong Kong in 2007 and worked in the city until 2010, said he was physically and mentally abused by his employer and associates.

"I was afraid... they would beat and tell me bad language. They asked me not to tell anything to my parents. They threatened (to kill) me," the man, identified as Zn, told the court through his interpreter.

For the first two years he was not allowed to leave the employer's premises apart from to run errands, he said.

Although he was permitted to return to his home country in 2010, he came back in 2012 to seek redress from the authorities and financial compensation from his employer.

He received HK$32,000 through a labour tribunal but said that was only a portion of the HK$200,000 he was owed.

Defending the Hong Kong authorities, Mr David Pannick accused him of "exaggerating" facts in order to claim his money back.

But campaigners said the case showed the government's failings.

Ms Victoria Wisniewski Otero, advocacy and campaigns manager of Justice Centre Hong Kong, said there was a "complete absence of comprehensive legislation to prohibit human trafficking in all its forms, particularly for the purpose of forced labour".

"It is extremely difficult for victims to receive protection and seek redress," she said.

A report published by the UN's Committee Against Torture in December expressed "concern" over trafficking and forced labour and said the city should "punish" offenders, including officials.

The government has no figures for human trafficking cases through Hong Kong and campaigners say many cases fall off the radar.