SHANGHAI – Informing on five drug takers or two weeks in jail and deportation: these are the options that hundreds of foreigners have had to choose between after being detained in China in the last few weeks, as part of an intense anti-drug “witch hunt” that the authorities are carrying out.
Fear and distrust are prevalent among the international community in cities such as Shanghai as an increasing number of people are becoming a part of this chain of informants.
Last weekend, dozens of patrols arrived at four popular nightclubs in the city frequented by foreigners and arrested everyone present.
They were taken to detention centers to be subjected to drug tests in a country where consumption of drugs is punishable with harsh penalties and drug-trafficking with the death penalty.
The tests are done using hair follicles and detect if the person has taken drugs over the past year without specifying whether these have been taken within or outside Chinese territory.
Such is the situation that embassies of countries including France and Spain have sent out briefing notes explaining the detention procedures and asking people to be extremely cautious.
“For weeks now, the Chinese authorities have been stepping up controls for the consumption of drugs and illicit substances, whose consumption in China is a criminal offense,” the Spanish consulate general in Shanghai says in its note.
It adds that based on the testimony of those affected, the police are encouraging people to inform on others to reach more drug takers, whom they detain anywhere.
They are then subjected to a tough interrogation and urine and hair follicle drug tests. According to the consulate, the results are not handed to the detainee, who is not allowed to telephone anyone, not even a lawyer.
Those who have gone through this procedure tell EFE that it is not done sensitively.
“If you are a woman, they cut a lock off, but if you are a man, they shave half the head so as to leave you marked,” says Manuel, a Spaniard who went through the detention center and decided, like the majority of cases, to inform on five people on his WeChat contact list in exchange for his freedom.
The Spaniard, whose real name is not Manuel, has been living in a state of panic since he received a call a month ago and was told to come to the police station in a few hours without being given any explanation.
“I knew what they were calling me for since for weeks they had been calling acquaintances,” he says. In all, he estimates that they have arrested “some 50 friends or acquaintances.”
He admits to taking hashish although he tested negative for that and positive for cocaine.
“It is impossible: I’m convinced that the tests are not reliable. I don’t know anybody who has tested negative and many of the detainees say they have not taken anything,” he adds.
Manuel was shown his results for a few seconds on a mobile phone. They were in Chinese, the same language in which he signed the statement confessing that he was guilty of taking drugs but willing to collaborate with the authorities.
That paper set him free for now.
“The truth is we don’t know what this can mean and what can happen to us in the future,” he says.
He was always aware that abusing drugs is illegal in China but feels what is happening is wrong.
“There have always been controls but not at this level and volume. We are people who are legal here. We contribute to the country. We pay taxes,” he says. “This is only a show of force: they want to remind you and show they are the ones in charge here.”
During the arrest, the police also take the detainees’ mobile phones for an hour so they have access to all their personal data and can install any type of program on it.
There are many stories doing the rounds in the bars these days. There is one about a French mother who tested positive but refused to plead guilty, was arrested and deported and subjected to another test in France, which turned out to be negative and her visa was accepted once again.
There are stories of people who fled the country after the police proposed that they arrange to buy from a drug dealer to be able to catch him red-handed.
There is another of a teenager who tested positive for marijuana and ended up being deported with his entire family.
“When the detainees are underage, the expulsion applies to the parents and siblings, who must leave the country within 10 days,” the Spanish consulate general’s document points out.
The document encourages people to communicate the events that transpire but warns that the embassy “cannot intervene in the development of police and legal procedures.”