‘No longer any illusion’ of a functioning legal system in Hong Kong: Freed US lawyer

Samuel Phillip Bickett was jailed for assaulting an officer during 2019 prodemocracy protests.
By Jane Tang
2022.03.24
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‘No longer any illusion’ of a functioning legal system in Hong Kong: Freed US lawyer Samuel Phillip Bickett speaks to RFA in an interview, March 24, 2022.
RFA

American lawyer Samuel Phillip Bickett, who was jailed in July last year for assaulting a police officer during Hong Kong’s 2019 prodemocracy protests, arrived home in the U.S. on Thursday after being released from prison earlier this week and deported by authorities. Bickett had been granted bail in August after six weeks behind bars but was ordered to complete the remainder of his sentence after the city’s High Court dismissed an appeal of his conviction in February. He spoke with RFA’s Mandarin Service about his ordeal and why he plans to see through his appeal process in Hong Kong, despite the likelihood that his conviction will be upheld.

RFA: Can you describe your darkest moments during this case and what helped you to get through it?

Bickett: I guess my darkest time was right at my conviction on June 22, 2021, which was an absolute shock. I mean, at that point, I, my lawyers, the media, everybody sort of assumed – and there's video of my case showing very clearly that I did nothing wrong – that there was no way that this guy was going to convict me. And then he did, and he read out a series of facts that were just absolutely made up. I mean, they were just out of nowhere. He described something that didn't exist. And I was in genuine shock for a couple of days.

The first several weeks in [jail] were very, very difficult. And really, what got me through was … my visits that I could get from friends and family and then … a lot of letters from strangers just kind of trying to support and remind me that everything was OK and that I'd done the right thing and it wasn't my fault … And I think to a lot of Hong Kongers, it really represented how far [the authorities] had fallen and how completely tragic it was for the city and not just for, you know, me individually. So, I was getting a lot of letters about that, and it was really, really helpful to see and helped me to understand a lot of the bigger picture here.

RFA: Do you believe there is any hope left for Hong Kong’s judicial system amid the pressure from Beijing?

Bickett: I no longer have any illusion that there is a functioning system of rule of law and judicial independence in Hong Kong. I mean, that's very clearly gone. With that said … I'm still appealing. I'm still challenging things because I think at the very least, we're going to try to go up to the court for a final appeal. And I have very little hope of any success there, but I want them to go on record doing the same thing that these lower courts have done and essentially abandoning the law and making it clear to everyone that they've done so.

So far, the Court of Appeal has managed to just sort of put its head in the sand and ignore the fact that its lower courts are rampantly abusing their power and committing all kinds of abuses of process and perversions of justice under their noses. And that needs to stop. The court of final appeal has the ultimate responsibility for the entire court system and the chief justice has ultimate responsibility for the judges under his care, and I intend to do whatever I can to make sure that they go on record, either trying to fix some of the problems – which I don't think they'll do – or aligning themselves with the criminality of their lower courts.

RFA: Now that you are home and have made it through this ordeal, what are your plans?

Bickett: What's next is spending some time with my family and, probably based on my six-year-old nephew who lives here, probably building a lot of Lego sets … Over these couple of years, I’ve developed some connections with some of the Hong Kong community and broader human rights community here in Washington, in New York and London. And my hope is to meet and hear from a lot of these people so that I can really understand where I might be able to be useful and continue this fight.

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