On Thursday, a US diplomat visited Guthrie McLean, the American college student being held in a detention center in Zhengzhou following an altercation with a local cab driver, reporting that he is doing well considering the circumstances.
Guthrie, a 25-year-old University of Montana student, was formally arrested on July 17th, more than a month after his tussle with the taxi driver, according to Tom Mitchell, the Financial Times Beijing bureau chief and family friend. Mitchell says that Guthrie was merely trying to protect his mother, Jennifer McLean, a deaf woman who has been teaching English and sign language in China for than a decade, from the cabbie who was trying to rough her up outside her apartment in Zhengzhou following a fare dispute.
Mitchell says that Guthrie pulled the driver off of his mom and shoved him to the ground before going back to the apartment, thinking that that was the end of the dispute. “Guthrie was only defending his mother,” Michell told the SCMP. “He’s a very gentle, quiet kid. He’s not the type of kid who goes around picking fights with anyone.”
However, five weeks later, police arrived at the apartment and took Guthrie away to the station where they demanded that he pay 100,000 RMB in compensation to the taxi driver who claimed to have suffered serious injuries in the altercation. That sum later came down to 60,000 RMB, according to Mitchell. Unable to pay, Guthrie was locked up, but not formally charged. Since then, he has been living in a detention center in Zhengzhou. His mother has been unable to visit him.
But, on Thursday, a US consulate official visited Guthrie, according to a spokesman for Montana Senator Jon Tester. The official said that Guthrie had “no physical or mental health concerns” in the detention center and had been given access to legal resources, without providing further details.
Meanwhile, Guthrie’s mother has rejected reports that her son is doing just dandy in Chinese detention. “Fine is a bit of an overstatement. He is enduring,” she told the Associated Press, earlier this week she called the detention center “one of the worst in China.”
Jennifer has been raising hell about her son’s arrest, calling on US government officials to secure his freedom and speaking to various media outlets. She has described the arrest as nothing more than a “shakedown” by Chinese police who want “ransom” money to release her son.
So far, her efforts have been successful at spurring officials to action. Montana Senator Steve Daines paid a visit to Cui Tiankai, the Chinese ambassador to the US, yesterday to urge that Guthrie’s case be quickly resolved.
“This was a young man who stepped in to protect his mother who is deaf and is in China to help teach sign language to hearing impaired Chinese children,” Daines said in a statement.
Guthrie McLean essentially grew up in China. 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 and volunteering at the giant panda research base in Chengdu.
Back in Montana, Guthrie’s friends have launched a crowdfunding campaign to pay for his bail, so far they have raised $515 out of their goal of $7,500.
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