An American lawyer who was deported from Hong Kong after serving time in prison for assaulting a police officer in 2019 has said he intends to challenge his conviction up until the Court of Final Appeal. He has maintained his innocence and said the prosecution was politically motivated.

Speaking from his sibling’s home in Washington DC, Samuel Bickett, a former compliance lawyer, shared with HKFP how he was deported and his plans moving forward.

Bickett, who moved to Hong Kong in 2013 and last worked at the Bank of America, was convicted in June 2021 of assaulting a police officer then jailed. His trial and conviction attracted international media attention.

The confrontation between Bickett and Senior Constable Yu Shu-sang, part of which was recorded on video, occurred in Causeway Bay MTR station on December 7, 2019, towards the end of the protests and unrest that rocked Hong Kong that year.

At the time, public anger towards the police was high, and the city’s 30,000 police officers were allowed to carry retractable batons during off-duty hours to protect them. 

Bickett told HKFP that he believed his conviction should not stand, because the crime of assaulting a police officer is premised on the fact that the offender knew of their police identity. In the video, Yu can be heard denying he was a police officer before saying “yes.”

Samuel Phillip Bickett. Photo: Twitter.

The officer later admitted in court that, before Bickett intervened, a minor had jumped turnstiles at the station. Bickett said Yu then falsely accused the minor of sexual assault in an attempt to get the people’s attention whilst Yu grabbed the minor and beat him with a baton. This prompted Bickett to intervene and try and grab Yu’s baton.

In the video, Bickett can be seen stepping on Yu as he tries to take the baton.

That the minor did not commit an arrestable offence and Yu’s false accusation undermined the legality of his right to exercise his police powers to use force or to detain a person, Bickett said.

Bickett was found guilty of assault in June 2021 and sentenced to four and a half months in prison. He served six weeks before being released pending appeal. After losing the appeal, Bickett returned to jail for six further weeks.

He was immediately deported from the city following release and says he was barred from returning to Hong Kong. He expects to reunite with his partner and their pet dog shortly, he told HKFP.

He was placed on a flight by immigration officials, who handed his passport to airline staffers and instructed that they retain it until he reached the US, Bickett said – an act he believed they had no authority to carry out.

Samuel Bickett protested against Hong Kong’s 2021 Legislative Council election in last December. File photo: Samuel Bickett, via Twitter.

In Hong Kong, between court appearances and visits to report to the police, Bickett remained highly vocal on social media and launched a personal newsletter. He said he believed he was able to do so in large part because he was a foreigner: “My bravery was, I guess, also buttressed by the fact that I have certain privileges that a lot of Hongkongers would not have.”

That he was not arrested for displaying a sign calling for the release of political figures detained on national security charges revealed “how utterly political and lawless these national security arrests” were, he said.

Prison time

On his time spent behind bars, Bickett said the “food was decent” and prison guards were “generally mild.”

He said he observed no general discrimination against political prisoners. “There seems to be a pretty good consensus that these people should not be in prison,” he said.

Bickett also experienced a lockdown within prison, which he said was put in place after some detainees tested positive for Covid-19. Those within the same workgroup would be left under lockdown for 10 days, apart from being allowed out every two days to shower. This caused “great suffering,” Bickett said. Visits were suspended at the time and prisoners were not allowed to see their lawyers during lockdown, including Bickett.

This prevented him from making progress with his lawyers about bringing the case to the Court of Final Appeal, but discussions will resume now that he is out of the city.

To avoid being locked down, Bickett claimed detainees would hide their positive test results. “If you tested positive, then you go find yesterday’s test and you replace it,” he said, describing the situation as disastrous.

A Correctional Services Department van drives past the High Court. File photo: Studio Incendo.

Settling down back in the US, Bickett said he would continue to write about his experience and publish a newsletter for subscribers on Hong Kong’s legal issues.

“I’d really like to land somewhere where I can focus full time on continuing to do some of this work for Hong Kong, and China’s human rights,” he said. He said he plans on creating a record of his time in Hong Kong by writing a book, speaking to the press and to the US government.

He hoped that “exiles from the city” like himself could one day return and “see it accomplishing goals we’ve all been hoping for many years,” he said. Meanwhile, “this is my life now, so that’s what I’m going to do,” he said.

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Hong Kong Free Press is a new, non-profit, English-language news source seeking to unite critical voices on local and national affairs. Free of charge and completely independent, HKFP arrives amid rising concerns over declining press freedom in Hong Kong and during an important time in the city’s constitutional development.