CANADA & WORLD What it’s like inside Chinese prison
A Canadian who spent three weeks behind bars in China shares his experience
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.