The wheels of Chinese justice have turned surprisingly quickly for one American college student who was jailed last week following an altercation with a taxi driver in Zhengzhou.
“I’m happy, frustrated and overwhelmed,” Guthrie McLean told the Missoulian following his release very early on Monday morning, describing himself as being sleep deprived after spending nearly a week inside a Chinese holding cell.
Guthrie, a 25-year-old University of Montana student, was formally arrested on July 17th, more than a month after his tussle with the cab 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.
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 to his knee from being shoved by Guthrie. That sum later came down to 60,000 RMB, according to Mitchell. Unable to pay, Guthrie was locked up, but not formally charged.
During his time in detention, Guthrie said that he was extremely paranoid had no clue what would happen to him. He said that police had told him he was going to jail because the taxi driver had injuries, but there was no evidence that the cabbie had hurt his mother.
Following her son’s arrest, Jennifer began raising hell, calling on US government officials to secure his freedom and speaking to various media outlets. She described his arrest as nothing more than a “shakedown” by Chinese police who wanted “ransom” money to release her son.
Jennifer said that her son was being held in “one of the worst” detention centers in China. Guthrie said that he was held in a room with 20 other people. The room had only the essentials: a shower, toilet and a deck where people could sleep.
Last Thursday, a US consulate official visited Guthrie at the detainment center. Following a few hiccups, they were able to secure his release with the help of Montana senators Steve Daines and Jon Tester who called the situation’s quick conclusion “a testament to what can be accomplished when we turn up the heat and hold government accountable.”
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.
He told the Missoulian that the whole thing was not typical of what he has experienced in China over the years. “This incident was done as part of the actions of a taxi driver and a few old-fashioned thinking police officers,” he said.
Back in Montana, Guthrie’s friends launched a crowdfunding campaign to pay for his bail, raising $655 out of their goal of $7,500. But, Jennifer has said that she wants the money returned since she hasn’t had to pay anything in legal fees.
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