16th September 2021 – (Hong Kong) In December 2019, an off-duty police officer entangled with an American corporate lawyer while pursuing a suspect who jumped over the MTR gate. Afterwards, the banker was charged with two counts of assaulting the police officer. The banker argued that the police and the Department of Justice have abused the judicial procedure and applied to the Eastern Magistrates’ Court to set aside the hearing. Magistrate Arthur Lam Hei–wei rejected the banker’s application.
The magistrate finally sentenced the defendant to 4 months and 2 weeks’ imprisonment in July.
After serving 6 weeks in prison, he was finally granted bail pending appeal. Bickett posted on his Tweeter yesterday to appeal to netizens to ask him questions about his case and his experience in prison. In most of his replies, he has been grudging against the government and police force by citing cases of pro-democracy activists who were not relevant to his case. He was definitely playing with fire by constantly saying that the rule of law has eroded in Hong Kong and commenting on political persecution. Although he has only 2 months left to serve in prison pending his appeal, if he continues with his anti-government antics, he may one day become first American banker to be charged under the National Security Law.
Bickett, a former Asia-Pacific compliance director at Bank of America Securities, was held on a HK$100,000 (US$12,859) bond with additional HK$50,000 guarantee. He also surrendered his US passport and must report to police three times a week.
Bickett spoke to the Washington Post which then published his plight in an article on 12th September. According to The Post, he was passed some letters written by other pro-democracy supporters after he was transferred to the Stanley Prison in July. “Thanks for standing with us,” one woman wrote. He claimed that rule of law is diminishing in the Chinese territory and there is unchecked power in the police force. A spokesman for Hong Kong’s Justice Department referred The Washington Post to an earlier statement in which the department took “exception to the serious accusation made against our legal system arbitrarily and without basis.” In a previous letter to The Post, the police force said it “refutes the baseless accusation that the Hong Kong Police Force is emboldened by impunity” and said the off-duty officer had been upholding the law. Bickett also said that prison rules were selectively enforced to target perceived troublemakers and revealed his experience during his detention.
The incident in December 2019 started after an off duty police officer tried to subdue a man who jumped over a turnstile, a foreign man then reportedly asked a plain clothes officer if he was a “POPO”. POPO was a slang term used by pro-democracy supporters during the anti-extradition protest. Bickett then proceeded to assault the officer before he admitted that he was indeed a police officer. By labelling a police officer with the sensitive word of “POPO”, Bickett was probably regarded as a pro-democracy supporter and the police officer was feeling threatened when the two men surrounded him before subsequently admitted that he was a police officer. If these two foreign men were really genuine to verify the identity of the off duty police officer, why didn’t they use a more courteous and professional question such as, “Are you a police officer?”
Instead, Bickett then proceeded to assault the police officer after he had revealed his identity. Bickett’s action constituted an assault against an officer because as a civilian, he had no right to attack the officer regardless of what he did even if Bickett attempted to rely on Cap 221 of the Laws of Hong Kong which states that citizen’s arrest can only be used when one reasonably suspects that the person is guilty of an arrestable offence. By labelling the officer as “POPO”, it was already a biased provocation which made the officer hesitant to reveal his identity in the first place. The officer was armed with a baton and Bickett should have come to terms that he might really be a law enforcement officer at that point in time. If similar situation had occurred in the United States, the police officer would have wielded a gun at him.
By using the controversial word “POPO” during the anti-extradition period in 2019, these two have clearly shown their anti-government and anti-police stand. The words “FXXK the POPO” have been prominently and repetitively sprayed on the wall of Hong Kong Police Station in Wan Chai during the siege in June 2019 and also on multiple street walls during illegal assemblies in 2019. Police were repeatedly accused of abusing their powers in the notable MTR Prince Edward Station incident which was subsequently proven to be false.
According to Bickett and his lawyers, “To commit this crime, you have to have actual knowledge that he’s a police officer,” Bickett said. “And there’s a video of this guy saying he is not a police officer.”
The word POPO has its origins in 1980s southern California, where T-shirts bearing “PO” (“police officer”) worn by cops on bicycles would, with officers riding in pairs, spell out “POPO”. However, it was used extensively during the anti-extradition protests in 2019 by rioters and protesters.
The judge who found Bickett guilty said the officer could not be expected to respond accordingly as the crowd was being “disrespectful” by using a slang word for police. Bickett could have avoided this whole saga if the crowd including himself had properly addressed the police officer. As a result, the entire episode has been conveniently used by Western media and Bickett himself to depict the ‘erosion of rule of law’ in Hong Kong. The intentional use of the slang word has undoubtedly contributed to the hostility and it has nothing to do with the rule of law.
On the other hand, the incident has indeed highlighted the political polarisation in the city even among the foreigners. Misleading anti-government news, as well as yellow journalism, are related forms of problematic news content that are likely sources of political polarisation. Many local Chinese media outlets such as the now defunct Apple Daily have been leveraged to cause the widespread sharing and infiltration of online fake news resulting in biased treatment towards the police force.