A US college student is currently being held in a Chinese jail following an altercation with a cab driver in Zhengzhou, according to the student’s mother.
Guthrie McLean essentially grew up in China where his mom, Jennifer, teaches English despite the fact that she is deaf. After earning an advanced diploma from The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Guthrie went on to a university in Dalian where he then transferred over to the University of Montana.
In late May, Guthrie flew back to China on a US passport, planning to visit his mother in Zhengzhou while also traveling around to see the sights. However, his trip was cut short recently following an altercation with a taxi driver that has apparently left him behind bars. Tom Mitchell, the Financial Times Beijing bureau chief and a family friend of the McLean’s, gave the following account to the Missoulian of the chain of events that led to Guthrie’s detainment:
On June 10, a taxi driver returned Jennifer McLean to her residence in Zhengzhou in Henan Province, said Mitchell. He said she handed over Chinese currency of Renminbi 100 for a RMB 70 fare, but the driver refused to provide change.
He said McLean is deaf but reads lips and speaks softly.
“In the argument that followed, the driver started to rough up Jennifer,” Mitchell said. “Guthrie came down from the residence, pulled the driver off Jennifer, and pushed him to the ground. Then they went back to their apartment.”
On July 16, he said, the police arrived at Jennifer’s apartment, took Guthrie to a station, and told him to pay the equivalent of $14,800 for the injuries the driver said he sustained.
“I’m sure it didn’t take the police and taxi driver very long to realize Jennifer doesn’t have much money, and their price came down to RMB 60,000 ($8,878), which Jennifer also doesn’t have,” Mitchell said in an email.
Guthrie McLean was detained overnight, formally arrested Monday, July 17, and transferred to a detention center, he said.
Jennifer McLean has described her son’s arrest as nothing more than a “shakedown” by Chinese police looking for money, adding that Guthrie is being held in “one of the worst detention centers in China” with no separate facilities for foreign detainees and that it’s not clear when or if he will be charged with a crime. Since he was put behind bars, she has not been allowed to see her son.
According to Mitchell, Chinese authorities will have approximately 30 days to decide whether to press charges against Guthrie. If they do not, then he will be free to leave; however, if they do bring charges against him, then he could be sitting inside the detention center for the better part of a year while police and prosecutors gather evidence for trial.
Jennifer McLean has said that she’s already reached out to the US Embassy in Beijing along with her representatives back in Montana; however, it’s not clear how much the US will be able to do to help Guthrie. On Tuesday, a US State Department spokesperson said that the agency was aware of his detainment but declined to comment further. Meanwhile, local police in Zhengzhou have refused to confirm or deny that Guthrie is being held.
News of his detainment has Guthrie’s friends back in Montana fearing the worst and looking to launch a crowdfunding effort to help fund his release. “‘Cause even though I have faith in our government. I don’t have faith in the Chinese government,” says Zakk Winch, one of Guthrie’s best friends.
“China is well-known for beating its prisoners, starving them, torturing them in any possible way they possibly can – – psychological, physical,” he continues. “I’ve been to China. I understand what happens there,” adds Zakk’s fiance, Caitlin.
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