Hong Kong court jails US lawyer over scuffle with policeman

Police officers in Victoria Park in Hong Kong on July 1, 2021.
Police officers in Victoria Park in Hong Kong on July 1, 2021.PHOTO: REUTERS

HONG KONG (BLOOMBERG) - A Hong Kong court sentenced a US lawyer to prison for a scuffle with a plainclothes police officer at the height of pro-democracy protests in 2019.

Samuel Bickett, 37, was given a term of four months and two weeks on Tuesday (July 6) on one charge of assaulting a police officer. The former Asia-Pacific compliance director at Bank of America Merrill Lynch was found guilty last month and denied bail.

Magistrate Arthur Lam described Bickett’s crime as a “serious threat to public order”, saying the policeman suffered multiple injuries. Lam said the two weeks were added to the sentence because the assault occurred in a crowded area and Bickett’s actions may have incited others to violence.

Hong Kong was rocked by large and sometimes violent demonstrations in 2019. Beijing responded by imposing a broad and vaguely worded national security law on the former British colony last year. It has also revamped the city’s election system and clamped down on media outlets.

A survey by the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong in May found that more than 40 per cent of members said they might leave the city, with Singapore among the most popular alternatives.

Lawmakers in the United States expressed concern to President Joe Biden last week over what they called China's "ceaseless assault" on democracy in the former British colony.

They asked Mr Biden in a letter what his administration was "doing to coordinate with allies and partners to ensure that the private sector" knows about the risk to US citizens and interests in Hong Kong posed by the national security law.

The US State Department has an advisory urging Americans to reconsider travel to Hong Kong in place, citing “arbitrary enforcement of local laws and Covid-19-related travel restrictions”.

Bickett, who said the officer was attacking people with a baton in a subway station, wrote in a statement before his conviction that the verdict was “entirely unsupportable by both the law and the evidence in this case”.

Prosecutors said during the trial that Bickett tried to take a baton from Senior Constable Yu Shu-sang, punched him and knelt on him, the South China Morning Post reported.