A University of Montana student is being detained in China following his arrest for having an altercation with a cab driver, USA Today College reports. According to his mother Jennifer McLean, 25-year-old Guthrie McLean was accused of assaulting the driver after the latter began attacking his mom.
The McLeans have a long history with China, as Jennifer, who is deaf, teaches English there. Senior student Guthrie was studying East Asian Studies at the University of Montana when he came to visit Jennifer in Zhengzhou, China, earlier this summer. On June 10, Jennifer got into a disagreement with her cab driver when he refused to give her the correct change he owed her.
”There there was a bit of an argument, and the taxi driver started to rough Jennifer up...pushing and shoving her, grabbing her bags—she was very scared,” family friend Tom Mitchell told CBS Missoula. “She was able to call Guthrie, and he saw what was happening. He pulled the taxi driver off her, threw him to the ground, and end of story. Or so it seemed.”
Authorities didn’t contact Guthrie until over a month after the encounter with the driver, who insisted that the student had injured him. When Guthrie was arrested on July 16, no formal charges were made, but he was asked to pay a substantial settlement amount prior to his detainment. His fate is now up in the air as he waits in a detention center for a month, waiting for officials’ final decision. If charges are made, Guthrie will stay in custody, but will be freed if no charges arise during the month-long waiting period.
Guthrie’s mom has been kept away from her son since his arrest. “He is in one of the worst detention centers in China,” she wrote in an email to Montana news outlet Missoulian. “There are no separate facilities for foreign detainees, and they can hold him indefinitely without charges. Only the U.S. Embassy or consulate representative may visit him, but they are refusing because they require a formal notification from the Chinese authorities to do so.”
The severe treatment of inmates often seen in Chinese prisons has worried Guthrie’s friends and family. “China is well-known for beating its prisoners, starving them, torturing them in any possible way they possibly can—psychological, physical,” friend Zakk Winch told ABC Fox Montana. “This is the most worried I’ve ever been.”
Friends even created a YouCaring page in support of Guthrie’s release. Montana Senators Steve Daines and Jon Tester are also reaching out to the American and Chinese embassies to help secure his freedom.
“This was a young man who stepped in to protect his deaf mother,” Sen. Daines told ABC News. “I realize we are subject to the laws of China (as U.S. citizens abroad) and will respect their government, but we want to make sure there is justice here.”
School representatives are also working towards Guthrie’s safety, keeping in touch with the State Department and the senators to contribute to these efforts.
We hope that this situation is sorted out peacefully and Guthrie has a safe return home!