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He Went to China to Play Basketball, Was Locked in Room for 8 Months

Jeff Harper ended up in nightmarish residential detention system
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 22, 2021 8:30 PM CDT
Updated Jun 23, 2021 12:55 AM CDT

(Newser) – American basketball player Jeff Harper went to China for a tournament last year hoping to get a playing contract. He ended up locked in a room for eight months, held in the country's nightmarish "residential surveillance in a designated location" system, the Wall Street Journal reports. Harper was detained in January and returned to the US after he was released without charge in September. He says he was detained after he saw a man assaulting a woman in Shenzhen and pushed the man away, reports the Des Moines Register. After months in detention, he was told the man had died after falling into a coma. Harper says during his months locked in the room, he lost 40 pounds and had no idea where he was—or even that there was a pandemic happening. He says the isolation was difficult but he tried to pass the time by exercising and praying.

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The 33-year-old never appeared in court, but he was allowed visits from US consular officials after his girlfriend tracked the location of his phone. "They do their justice system totally different than we do ours," he tells the Journal. "I'm not a fan of it." But Harper appears to have experienced a relatively mild form of the RSDL system, also known as "black jails," reports the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Other former detainees, including dissidents, human rights lawyers, and foreigners, say they were constantly watched and ordered to sit in silence at all times when they were not eating or being interrogated. Punishments for any breach of the rules included beatings, shacklings, and reduction of rations. Human rights group Safeguard Defenders, founded by Swedish former detainee Peter Dahlin, released a graphic report on the RSDL system of "state-sponsored kidnapping" Tuesday. (Read more China stories.)

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