US basketball player says he spent eight months in Chinese detention and ate bug-infested food

A professional U.S. basketball player said he spent eight months in a Chinese detention center, was cut off from contact with lawyers or family, and lost 40 pounds after he was forced to eat bug-infested rice.

Jeff Harper, 33, was in Shenzhen for a basketball tournament in January 2020 when he reportedly got into a fight with a Chinese resident. He saw a couple fighting and allegedly attempted to protect the woman by pushing the man, prompting his arrest by Chinese authorities.

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Harper was never granted a court date or charge for his actions despite being told several months into his detention that the man he allegedly shoved fell into a coma and died following the altercation.

“They do their justice system totally different than we do ours. … I’m not a fan of it,” Harper said after his release.

The type of detention center Harper was kept in is called “residential surveillance in a designated location,” according to the Wall Street Journal, and is commonly used by Chinese authorities to harbor a subject for interrogation in an undisclosed location before charges are filed.

Harper was never physically abused but suffered psychological abuse from the uncertainty surrounding his detainment, he said, adding that the food was offered in meager portions and that he lost over 40 pounds because the food was sometimes infested with bugs.

The basketball player was released in September 2020. Ninety-two percent of those arrested in China stand the threat of facing a court trial, and almost all end in conviction, according to the human rights group Safeguard Defenders.

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Travel safety guidance from the U.S. State Department warns that those who travel to China could be subject to “extended detention without due process of law.”