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US basketball pro lost 40 pounds, ate bug-infested rice while secretly detained in China for 8 months: report
Paul Yeung/Bloomberg via Getty Images

US basketball pro lost 40 pounds, ate bug-infested rice while secretly detained in China for 8 months: report

A professional American basketball player lost 40 pounds and was forced to eat bug-infested rice during a horrifying eight-month stint in Chinese solitary confinement last year, the Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday.

The player, 33-year-old Jeff Harper, had reportedly been in Shenzen for a basketball tournament in January 2020 when he got into an altercation with a Chinese resident. Harper allegedly came upon a couple fighting and stepped in to protect the woman by shoving the man — an action prompting his arrest and thus beginning his eight-month nightmare.

During the length of his detention, Harper never appeared in court and was never formally charged with a crime despite being informed a couple of months into his detention that the man he shoved had fallen into a coma and died.

The Journal noted that this type of Chinese detention that Harper endured is called "residential surveillance in a designated location" and is routinely used by Chinese authorities to hold a suspect for interrogation in a secret location prior to the filing of charges.

"They do their justice system totally different than we do ours. ... I'm not a fan of it," Harper told the Journal following his release. He said that while he was never physically abused he suffered psychological abuse from the uncertainty surrounding his situation.

While "residential surveillance" denotes a form of house arrest, in reality, it may represent a more systematized form of detention in which suspects are kept in purposefully built facilities akin to jails.

Harper told the Journal that he was kept in what appeared to be "a residential building for police officers." In his confinement space, all that he had was a rancid mattress and a plastic chair.

Reportedly so isolated that he wasn't even aware that a global pandemic was raging, Harper's human interaction was limited to the occasional phone call to the U.S. and visits from a lawyer and U.S. consular officials once his girlfriend was able to track his location via cellphone.

"Isolation is one the hardest things for the human mind," Harper noted, recalling that he coped by exercising, praying, and dreaming about his release.

For food, Harper was fed meager portions of sometimes bug-infested rice. He reportedly lost 40 pounds over the eight-month period.

Eventually, in September 2020, Harper was freed and permitted to leave China. But amazingly, he appears to be one of the lucky ones. Human-rights organization SafeGuard Defenders, which focuses on human rights in China, reported that many of those kept under residential surveillance are eventually charged and sent to court. The Journal added that almost all Chinese court cases end with a conviction.

China's residential surveillance has been documented for years by human-rights groups such as Safeguard Defenders and Amnesty International. But the practice has begun trending in the news even more of late as China reportedly ramps up its deployment of the extra-judicial action.

Safeguard Defenders reported more than 5,000 cases of residential surveillance in China, up 91% from the year before. The group added that may only be the tip of the iceberg.

The U.S., along with many other counties, now warns citizens that travel to China may result in "prolonged interrogations and extended detention without due process of law."

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