Even if he lived to be as old as Methuselah or if he were to spend the rest of his life in comfort and prosperity, he would never get over the nightmare of the Chinese prison. The scars and lesions on his body will be a constant reminder of that dark period of his life.
Since his release on May 15, 2019, he has been taking stock of his life, especially, the inglorious period of 11 years and six months spent inside Beijing prison. Convicted by a Chinese court for allegedly abetting proliferation of illegal substance, Anambra-born Emeka Stanley Arubua, insisted he was innocent of the crime for which he was convicted, and still questioned the legality of his incarceration. His only crime was dating a Chinese lady, he maintained.
In this encounter with Saturday Sun, Arubua, 38, reconstructed his China nightmare casting aspersion on the Chinese criminal justice as system discriminatory towards foreigners.
The journey to prison
Arubua’s story started with the familiar preface of an average businessman seeking greener pasture in faraway shores.
“When I was in Nigeria, I was selling clothes. But I could not make enough to sustain my poor family, and our country does not hold much hope for the poor like me. So I borrowed some money, sold some landed property and traveled to China for the first time in 2002. In 2004,I was granted resident permit and I was sending goods to Nigeria. But my customers in Nigeria were not paying, so I became broke––and desperate. I met a friend of mine who was into drugs and I joined him in the illicit business in 2006.”
“I was later caught with a friend of mine. The truth was the shady business that led to our arrest didn’t involve me. I was there to see a friend. But I would not deny that I knew the guy was into drugs, but on that day, he invited me to hang out with him.
“We were arrested in Marriott Hotel, at 122 Liuhua Road, Yuexiu Qu. For two years, I was kept at No. 3 Detention Centre, Guangzhou. My family and friends were not allowed to see me. I was kept in a dark place in solitary confinement. They said I would obstruct the investigation if given access to my family members,friends and lawyers.
Though “not caught with substance,” Arubua was at first sentenced to a year and six months.
“Later, they came up with evidence that I used my passport to pay for a hotel room for their (my friend) and because I was caught on camera giving him 300RMB, it was concluded that I was the kingpin of the drug business. The recording had no audio. I tried to explain that he had approached me for money for his passport, but my explanation fell on deaf ears. Even the Chinese lawyer who was supposed to defend me told me he could not defend me and wouldn’t defend me.
“At court, my lawyer told the judge that the drug I was caught with had not gotten to the market and for that, I should be given a 10-year sentence. The judge corrected the lawyer that I was not caught with drugs but charged with abetting a crime. Nonetheless, he granted my lawyer’s prayer for 10-year imprisonment. In the end, I was given 15 years jail term, which I started afresh, aside from the first judgment of one year and six months previousconviction.”
Life inside Chinese prison
Arubua likened the Chinese prison to hell.
His ordeal, he claimed, started the very moment he was checked in and “immediately I introduced myself as a Nigerian.”
He said: “About 20 warders surrounded me, giving me orders at the same time; if I obeyed one, the other 19 would strike me with their electric batons inflicting shock on my body. When you are given a task, like sewing and could not complete it, it would accumulate to the evening punishment and you might have to forfeit your dinner. The common illness inside the prison was tuberculosis. About 140 inmates were afflicted with the ailment.”
He further accused Chinese warders of extortion.
“As a prisoner, we worked and they paid us a salary for our feeding. When I worked for one month and I am paid 30RMD, I could only buy toothpaste for 20RMB; soap was 25RMB. Mind you, these are things that naturally cost 5RMB or 6RMB outside the prison. Therefore, one had to call his family back home to send some money. Inside Chinese prison, if you don’t work, you don’t eat there. I was fed rubber rice for 11 years and six months that I spent there. More than 90 percent of the prisoners have diabetes.”
He also highlighted some tricks used by prison officials against foreign inmates. “They do organize what they call fighting drills. They would tell prisoners the purpose of the exercise was to keep the warders fit and therefore it was compulsory for us to participate. Unknown to us, they had set up video cameras. At the end of the day, the videos were used for propaganda, sent to different embassies, tarnishing the image of the prisoners.”
Like other survivors of the Chinese gulags, Arubua’s narratives also corroborated the oft-cited stories of the use of foreign inmates of Chinese prisons as guinea pigs for scientific purposes.
“In China, people don’t volunteer for experiment; instead they use foreign prisoners. Last year the prison management told us they had a vaccine for influenza. But one Chinese inmate had told us they wanted to use prisoners to test a new drug. The inmates who took the vaccine never returned.”
The tragic love affair
For the umpteenth time, Aruba insisted on his innocence. That begged the question: How do you explain the fate that befell him?
He attributed his tribulation to his audacity to date a Chinese woman.
His girlfriend, Wang Shanshan, had died in a motor accident, but their romance had been controversial right from the beginning.
“Her family didn’t want me to date her. They did all they could to make sure we were not together. If I was not in the same bus with her when we had the accident that led to her death, I would not have believed it, because the family had told me several times that she would either disappear and I would not see her again or I’d go to prison where she won’t be able to see me. After her death, I kept receiving threats from the family. I moved to the hotel because of the threat from her family. I believe if I had not dated her then, I would have not lived in the hotel.”
Arubua avowed he wouldn’t have been incarcerated for so long had the Nigerian embassy officials in China shown up sooner than later. “That is what is delaying many others there,” he affirmed. “There is a Nigerian called Chukwudi Brown Atuchukwu who had been incarcerated, awaiting trial for 18 years. Now, he is suffering from liver problem, tuberculosis, and diabetes. He is rotting away inside the prison. He needs government’s intervention, but the embassy has refused to intervene in his case.”