U.S. Lawyer Convicted Over Police Fight Warns Hong Kong’s Expats
(Bloomberg) -- An American lawyer sentenced to jail in Hong Kong over a scuffle with a plainclothes officer has warned expatriates living in the Asian financial hub that they could be targeted by police even if they steer clear of politics.
“Some Western observers, particularly in the business community, have minimized the risk to foreigners in Hong Kong of being targeted by the police,” Samuel Bickett wrote on Reddit, referring to national security legislation that China imposed on Hong Kong last year. “But my case shows that the police have no fear of targeting Westerners when it suits them.”
Bickett, 37, a former Asia-Pacific compliance director at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, talked about his case on the news and discussion website on Wednesday and in an interview Thursday. He is free on bail while appealing a sentence of four months and two weeks handed down in July for assaulting a policeman. Bickett has said he was trying to stop an attack in a subway station by a man who denied he was an officer.
In a statement, a Hong Kong police spokesperson said the force does not comment on individual cases in which there are ongoing legal proceedings.
“Police reiterate that all arrest actions are strictly based on evidence collected and in accordance with the laws of Hong Kong, regardless of the background and political stance of an individual,” the spokesperson said.
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam has said the national security law -- which bars subversion, secession, terrorism and foreign collusion -- is aimed at a small minority of criminals and was necessary to restore stability following unprecedented protests in 2019.
An outflow of residents caused Hong Kong’s population to shrink by a record in the year ending June, a development that follows the implementation of the national security law and the continuation of strict Covid-19 rules. In July, the Biden administration warned investors about the risks of doing business in the financial hub, saying Beijing’s move to exert more control threatens the rule of law and endangers employees and data.
Bickett said in an exchange of phone messages Thursday that his case showed that police are “not averse to charging Westerners with plainly bogus charges in the right circumstances,” which he said in his situation was because he humiliated a police officer by “easily” disarming him.
“Until my conviction, I naively believed that the constitutional independence of the Department of Justice and courts would ensure that the rule of law would prevail, despite the police dominance of the city,” Bickett said.
Representative for the Hong Kong government and Department of Justice did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
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