What it’s like in­side Chi­nese pri­son

A Cana­dian who spent three weeks be­hind bars in China shares his ex­pe­ri­ence

StarMetro Calgary - - BIG OPINIONS - Andy Blatch­ford

OT­TAWA—Crammed into a cell with 13 other sleep-de­prived in­mates, stron­garmed into singing the Chi­nese na­tional an­them and forced by shout­ing guards to watch state tele­vi­sion — a Cana­dian man de­tained in China last fall is of­fer­ing a glimpse of what he says life was like for him on the in­side.

Ja­son Ci­gana, a 39-year-old orig­i­nally from the Mon­treal area, had been liv­ing and work­ing in China’s south­ern city of Shen­zhen for six years when he was ar­rested by Chi­nese po­lice in Oc­to­ber. He was locked up for three weeks and even­tu­ally de­ported.

Ci­gana wanted to share his ex­pe­ri­ence with the Chi­nese le­gal sys­tem af­ter two Cana­di­ans — Michael Kovrig and Michael Spa­vor — were ar­rested there in De­cem­ber.

Ci­gana said his ar­rest came a few days af­ter he made what he de­scribes as “racially charged” com­ments on an on­line chat group made up of mostly ex­pa­tri­ates. He ad­mits he also made a “very in­sen­si­tive” re­mark about the 1937 Nan­jing Mas­sacre, in which Ja­pa­nese troops killed many thou­sands of Chi­nese peo­ple.

Then, Chi­nese po­lice came knock­ing at his door. He was de­tained, in­ter­ro­gated for sev­eral hours and re­leased, sev­eral times over four days. Po­lice even­tu­ally locked him up for three con­sec­u­tive weeks.

Ci­gana de­scribed the con­di­tions he faced in­side the de­ten­tion cen­tre as “ter­ri­ble.” Four­teen peo­ple packed into one cell and a shower that con­sisted of a cup and a bucket, he said.

He re­called the lights be­ing left on for 24 hours a day, and cranked up at night. Bark­ing dogs, slam­ming doors and shouts from guards made it al­most im­pos­si­ble for de­tainees to ever get any shut-eye, he said.

“The rooms are mon­i­tored, so let’s say if you’re sleep­ing and you cover your eyes they’ll start scream­ing through the in­ter­com to not cover your eyes,” Ci­gana said.

The guards also forced him to sing the an­them, vow loy­alty to China and ab­sorb pro­pa­ganda on state TV, he said.

“If you turn away from the tele­vi­sion dur­ing this time you are yelled at and be­rated,” he said. “It’s some­thing straight out of Nine­teen Eighty-Four.”

Months af­ter his de­ten­tion and de­por­ta­tion, Ci­gana’s case con­tin­ues to haunt him.


Al­though Ja­son Ci­gana’s case is dif­fer­ent from Kovrig’s and Spa­vor’s, he of­fers a rare look at how China han­dles peo­ple, in­clud­ing for­eign­ers, in cus­tody.

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