After getting involved in a scuffle at a bar in Beijing’s university district, young Swede Noak Jonsson gets sent to a Beijing jail. After being released he gives an incredible account of his hellish time entangled in the Chinese justice system to the Wall Street Journal.
According to his version of events, Noak’s problems began whilst on a night out with a group of his friends. After being thrown out of a club for arguing with staff at the coat-check, a bleeding bystander joined the commotion complaining of a broken nose. Despite protesting he didn’t hit anyone, Noak was taken away in a police car and ended up in a holding cell.
Later the next evening he claims that he and a South Korean friend, also under arrest, were taken for a drive. At first hopeful it would be to their freedom, instead their vehicle entered a complex surrounded by high walls and barbed wire. At this point, “fear was coupled with a sense of: How has it gotten this far?” Noak reflects.
Noak says he was sent to a cell with six beds and met his eight cell-mates. He was immediately made to stand watch along with a Nigerian inmate; part of a system enforced by the guards to ensure order and deal with the shortage of beds. For the next few weeks, Noak was given the job of cleaning the cell’s bathroom area and wash his cell-mates’ towels. “I came in last,” Noak said, “and was a Westerner so I was lowest in rank.”
Following a month of jail time, Noak was released, but authorities held onto his passport. Over the next few months he was called in for questioning by prosecutors trying to decide whether or not the case should proceed to court. Given the ridiculously high conviction rate in China, Noak and his family were encouraged to reach a financial settlement with the man he was claimed to have injured. He also wrote a grovelling letter to the prosecutors expressing regret over the brawl and stating how much he loved China and Chinese culture.
Noak was eventually released and returned home in November of last year, but due to the length of time it took to sort his case out, he had to forgo his place at Sweden’s prestigious Uppsala University. He regards the experience as “an injustice that I’ve been through,” but one day plans to return to China and “have a positive effect on China’s future, democracy and rights.”
The young Swede is not the first foreigner to end up behind bars in China. In 2011 an American told of his experience in a Shanghai jail after overstaying his tourist visa and leading the authorities on a cat-and-mouse chase around the city. Two years ago a New Zealander released a video describing the brutal treatment and violence he suffered while in a Chinese prison.
By Dominic Jackson