A Canadian citizen residing in China suffered three weeks of hell inside a local jail for making insensitive remarks about the country on WeChat. Not only was he sent back home without his Chinese wife and child, but the person is also being subjected to an online defamation campaign that aims to make his life difficult in Canada.
Jailed in China
The 39-year-old, Jason Cigana from Montreal, had been living in the Shenzhen region for the past six years. Last year, he made some remarks on a WeChat group comprised largely of expatriates. The remarks, which Cigana himself terms as ‘racially charged,’ came to the attention of a few locals who translated them into Chinese and twisted his words to make them sound a lot worse.
As the translated content went viral, it attracted a backlash from the local Chinese population. Cigana hid in his home for a few days. The authorities eventually came knocking and questioned him for several days, subsequently locking him up in prison for three weeks.
“The rooms are monitored, so let’s say if you’re sleeping and you cover your eyes, they’ll start screaming through the intercom to not cover your eyes… If you turn away from the television during this time [state propaganda broadcast] you are yelled at and berated… It’s something straight out of Nineteen Eighty-Four,” Cigana said in a statement (The Star).
He was also forced to recite the Chinese national anthem and vow loyalty to the country during the stay in prison. After three weeks, authorities deported him from the country, separating him from his wife and son.
Back in Canada, Cigana started looking for ways to sponsor his family’s immigration. However, he soon found out that there was an online hate campaign against him. A website has been set up, purportedly by his family, seeking “forgiveness” from the public for his comments. The site frames him for taking photos of a “perverted nature” and making statements against African-American culture. Cigana believes that the website will make it very difficult for him to get hired in Canada if potential employers were to Google his name.
“My wife is Chinese, my son is Chinese… I don’t hate Chinese people. I guess it was just a case of sometimes we go a little bit hard on the Internet without realizing it’s not a game. You can be punished for it. It’s something that essentially ruined my life,” he said in a statement (CTV News).
US university advisory
The potential dangers of using WeChat in China have been a topic of discussion in the West for some time. Recently, the University of California, Davis, issued a travel advisory to some of its students, warning them to abstain from posting on WeChat and other social media platforms during their China trip.
“While the use of WhatsApp, WeChat, and like messaging apps is legal in China, we have seen in the latest espionage charge of a U.S. citizen in Russia where the use of WhatsApp has been cited in his espionage charges… Our concern here is the possibility China could use this condition similarly against Western travelers to levy charges or as an excuse to deny departure. We recommend not using these messaging apps at this time,” the email stated (Next Shark).
The advisory also asked students to not surrender passports until absolutely necessary and not to reveal information to authorities that may be distorted to deny departure.