I am an American-born lawyer who was imprisoned for nearly two months in Hong Kong for stopping an illegal assault by a man who later claimed to be a cop. I’m out on bail pending appeal, but may have to go back to prison. Ask me anything.
Hi Reddit, I’m Samuel Bickett, a Hong Kong-based American-born lawyer. I’m here to talk about my imprisonment in Hong Kong for a crime I didn’t commit, and the deep concerns cases like mine raise about rule of law in the city. You can view videos of the incident, with annotations here, and you can read about it at the Washington Post here, here, and here.
On December 7, 2019, I came across two men brutally beating a teenager in a crowded MTR station. The incident did not happen at a protest: all of us were simply out shopping on a normal Saturday. When one of the men then turned to attack a second person, I grabbed his baton and detained him until the police arrived. Both men denied being police officers in both English and Chinese, and the entire incident was filmed on CCTV and on bystanders’ phones. Despite having immediate access to evidence that the two men had committed serious and dangerous crimes, the police arrested me and allowed the men to go free. They later denied in writing that the men were police officers, then months later changed their story to say one of them was, in fact, a member of the police force whose retirement had been “delayed.”
The alleged police officer initially accused the teenager of committing a sexual assault, but admitted under oath that this was a lie. He then claimed instead that the teenager jumped over a turnstile without paying, which is not an arrestable offense in Hong Kong. Whether even this was true, we will likely never know, as the police initially sought the turnstile CCTV footage, but after viewing it they carved the footage out of a subpoena, ensuring they would be permanently destroyed by the MTR.
During the lead-up to trial, the police offered the second attacker--their only non-police witness to testify at trial--a HK$4,000 ($514 USD) cash payment and an "award."
I am out on bail pending appeal after serving nearly two months of my 4.5 month sentence, and will return to prison if I lose my appeal. By speaking out, I expect retaliation from the Police, who have long shown a concerning lack of commitment to rule of law, but I’m done being silent.
I first moved to Hong Kong in 2013, and fell in love with this city and its people. I have been a firsthand witness to the umbrella movement in 2014 and the 2019 democracy movement. As a lawyer, I have watched with deep concern as a well-developed system of laws and due process have been systematically weakened and abused by the Police and Government.
I met many prisoners inside--both political and "ordinary" prisoners--and learned a great deal about their plight. I saw the incredible courage they continue to show in the face of difficult circumstances. The injustices political prisoners face have been widely reported, but I also met many good men who had made mistakes--often drug-related--who have been sentenced to 20+ years, then allowed very little contact with the outside world and almost no real opportunities for rehabilitation. I hope to be able to tell their stories too.
I’m open to questions from all comers. Tankies, feel free to ask your un-nuanced aggressive questions, but expect an equally un-nuanced aggressive reply.
I will be posting updates about my situation and the plight of Hong Kong at my (relatively new) Twitter.
ETA: I have been working with an organization called Voice For Prisoners (voiceforprisoners.org) that provides letters, visits, and other support to foreign prisoners in Hong Kong, most of whom are in for long prison sentences for drug offenses. I met many of these prisoners inside and they are good people who made mistakes, and they badly need support and encouragement in their efforts to rehabilitate. If anyone is looking for something they can do, I encourage you to check them out.
ETA2: Thank you everyone, I hope this has been helpful in raising awareness about some of the situation here in Hong Kong and in the prison system. I am eternally grateful for all the support I've received.
If you are not a Hongkonger and looking for ways you can help, I encourage you to reach out to local organizations helping Hong Kong refugees settle in your country or state. Meet Hong Kongers. Hire them in your companies. Help them get settled. Just be a friend. Settling in a new place is very hard, and it means everything right now.