EXCLUSIVE: Romanian teacher jailed in China for $80 ‘trap’ finally freed after eight years

Sursa: Xinhua

The Romanian teacher Marius Balo,  arbitrarily imprisoned in China for eight years, has been released from jail and is awaiting repatriation to Romania, the foreign ministry said Thursday.

Qingpu Prison

Mr Balo, now 40, who was locked up in the Shanghai Qingpu Prison since  since 2014  was freed on March 27, the ministry told Universul.net.

He is currently staying at a hotel in Shanghai, and will be repatriated to Romania after lockdown restrictions are lifted in China.

A South Korean who was set free from the foreign block of Shanghai’s Qingpu Prison in March delivered an oral message to Mr Balo’s friends stating that he was looking forward to coming home and telling the Romanian public his story. He says he was duped into accepting US$80 from a man who used his passport for criminal purposes.

Repatriation procedures

The foreign ministry said that its embassy in Beijing and the consulate in Shanghai were given permission to speak to him by telephone on March 24 to inform him about the repatriation procedures.

Romania’s consular office in Shanghai has issued travel papers and have bought a ticket, which his family has offered to pay for, it said.

He spent eight years in captivity in grueling conditions inside China’s prison system. He arrived in China in 2010 to work as a university English teacher, and was arrested by Chinese authorities in March 2014 and charged with an alleged US$80 contract fraud and was later, in 2016, sentenced to eight years and fined 13,600 Euros.

His Romanian uncle, who is reportedly his only relative in Romania, is said to have paid the fine by selling a flat in Cluj, otherwise Mr. Balo could not have left China for home because he had not paid his fine.

‘Inhuman’ conditions

Mr. Balo’s legal representatives have denounced the conditions he was held in at the prison as “inhuman” and claimed he had to work 12 hours a day seven days a week to gain the right to food. But Mr. Balo will now be able to tell that story personally.

China agreed to a transfer initially penciled in for 2019 . It initially failed due to pandemic restrictions which began in Feb. 2020. Entry visas were suspended at the time and China implemented strict travel restrictions.

China has a history of erecting bureaucratic barriers against smooth transfers, and Covid made it more difficult, *Peter Humphrey reported for Universul.net. Romania was unable to send police officers into China to collect him because China was closed,. If he had falsely confessed to a crime, he might have earned a reduction.

Hunger strike

In November 2020, he staged a hunger strike in protest against the delay and the failure to implement his transfer.

However, in May 2021 he told Romanian embassy representatives that that he he didn’t want to be transferred to a prison in Romania and preferred to complete his sentence in China. He confirmed this in writing in  September, they said.

The ministry noted it was its first time  a prisoner transfer had been successfully negotiated with China though the justice ministers_ even if it never materialized.

Accommodation costs

The ministry said it is covering his accommodation costs  and paying for food, medicine and a PCR test until he is able to leave China. A flight ticket has been changed several times.

The ministry said it had offered all the assistance it was legally allowed to within the confines of pandemic restrictions.  Embassy and consular office had maintained contact with Mr Balo and his family during his incarceration.

Over the last two years, China has also used Covid restrictions as a pretext to prevent prisoners who have served their full terms from returning to their home country.

Chinese indictment

His Chinese indictment and judicial ruling – which should be public records – have never been made public, not even by the Romanian Justice Ministry, which is said to have a copy.

 Peter Humphrey who wrote about Marius Balo’s case for Universul.net is one of the West’s most knowledgeable China specialists. He was a foreign correspondent  with Reuters and later worked as an anti-fraud consultant for multinational corporations in China.

In 2013 Mr. Humphrey and his wife were arrested and arbitrarily imprisoned for two years on trumped-up charges of illegal information gathering while conducting an investigation for a client company.

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