American lawyer imprisoned in Hong Kong speaks out about his treatment

Posted by Ed 14 days ago 

HONG KONG — Soon after his transfer to the maximum-security Stanley Prison in July, guards approached Samuel Bickett with a stack of letters written by people he had never met.

Some were neat, others in cursive or messy scribbles. But themes of hope, support and solidarity were repeated, page after page.

“Thanks for standing with us,” one woman wrote on stationery featuring an otter in a flower crown.

“The only thing we can do is to write letters [to] give some spiritual support to our siblings.”

Bickett, 37, arrived in Hong Kong nine years ago as a corporate lawyer handling cases for American companies in Asia.

But his fate has come to embody fears about a diminished rule of law in the Chinese territory and the unchecked power of the police force, after he was convicted and jailed for assaulting an officer who identified himself as such only after arresting Bickett. He is on bail and appealing the verdict.

“What I realized reading these letters is that to people, [my case] doesn’t just represent the destruction of the rule of law, it represents a destruction of values,” Bickett said in an interview. “I feel this immense burden not just to get justice on appeal for me but ...for all these Hong Kongers who supported me.”


As China remakes Hong Kong in its authoritarian image after anti-government protests in 2019, the American’s experience offers a glimpse into a prison system filling with political detainees.

His case is among those testing the degree to which the former British colony — which China promised autonomy, including independent courts, until 2047 — retains judicial independence, a reason many Western corporations base operations here.

No police officer has been arrested, charged or punished for any act related to the 2019 unrest, when police faced criticism for a heavy-handed crackdown on sometimes-violent protests. Eric Lai, a Hong Kong law fellow at Georgetown University’s Center for Asian Law, said the courts have tended to treat police “not as individuals or as police, but as a symbol of law and order.”


“We can see the overall jurisprudence, regarding law enforcement, is weighted more towards the police,” he said. “Overall, the police are not punished for abusing their powers.” 

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