Peter Humphrey: my time in a Chinese prison
The former fraud investigator tells the FT's Dan Garrahan about the 23 months he spent in captivity. Read his full first-person account on FT.com
Filmed by Liam McCarthy and Dan Garrahan, Edited by Oliver McGuirk, Produced by Dan Garrahan, Executive Producer Juliet Riddell
From the very moment that you're dropped into a cell, you're there to be crushed. You're there to have your spirit broken. You're there to break down and confess to things that you may have not done.
I wasn't able to talk to my wife again for the next 700 days. I knew that I and my wife had never committed a crime. I knew why we were there. I knew it was wrong. I knew it was injustice. And injustice is something that I've spent my entire life fighting against. And so I was prepared to fight.
A day or two after I arrived in the detention centre, inside the interrogation cell there was a cage of steel bars. Inside the cage there was a metal seat with a locking bar. And so I would be pushed into this cage and made to sit in the seat, and then locked into the seat. And I'm in handcuffs as well at the same time.
The physical conditions that you're placed in during the interrogation are part of a deliberate system. 700 days that I spent in captivity, I never slept with the lights off. I sometimes think I never slept at all. The prisoners were woken up every morning at 6.30am by a very weird electronic bugle. After that, breakfast would be brought on a trolley. They would push the food through the gaps in the bars of the door in these metal doggy bowls.
You're with strangers in a crowded room. 12 or 13 people in some cases. That's duress. You're not allowed to write to your relatives. You're not allowed to have direct contact with lawyers. That's duress. You don't get sunshine. You hardly get any physical exercise outdoors. That's duress.
They broadcast on a TV set that's hanging from the ceiling and it's piped in from, what they call the propaganda department. They broadcast some physical jerks, sort of exercises, a PE teacher telling everyone to do this, do that.
Anyone in those conditions is going to be worn down very quickly by anxiety and panic attacks. So every prisoner in this situation, although he's with other prisoners, he's isolated effectively. And he's constantly turning over in his mind. That's the only place where people can find privacy, is inside their own mind.
During the 13 months that I spent in that detention centre, I was able to glimpse my wife a couple of times through a window of an interrogation cell when I was on my way to meet my lawyer. We were not able to talk. When I received the first letter from her in January 2014, it was like gold dust falling from heaven. And from that moment on this sort of strengthened my morale, my resolve, my fight. We wrote more love letters to each other during this period in captivity in the end than we'd never written to each other in our lifetime.
Shortly before our trial, we met briefly in the yard of the detention centre and in a prisoner van when we went to the courthouse for what they called a pretrial hearing. The day that we went to court was one of the most terrible days of my life. Because it wasn't so much the trial itself that made the day terrible. It was the fact that the police had played a trick on me before the trial, regarding the information about my brother in law's death.
My wife's brother had died in the United States a few weeks or a couple of months before the trial. The police told me that she knew about it now, that she had been told. And this was a lie. When I arrived in the court house, we crossed each other's paths inside the courthouse building. She was being escorted across the top of the staircase, and I was just about to be brought up that staircase.
And when I saw her she said, "Good morning, Peter." And I expressed my condolences to her, believing that she knew. And she didn't. They had lied to me. And Ying broke down. So this completely destabilised us at the beginning of the trial. Five minutes later, we were being led into the courtroom.
I knew how much my wife loves me. And I believe that the love between us is probably what helped us to survive this ordeal.