English Teacher Reveals Horror of Being Jailed in Beijing’s Prison System

Marius Balo was falsely accused of financial fraud and was imprisoned in China for more than eight years
By Lee Hall
Lee Hall
Lee Hall
and Patricia Devlin
Patricia Devlin
Patricia Devlin
Patricia is an award winning journalist based in Ireland. She specializes in investigations and giving victims of crime, abuse, and corruption a voice.
July 18, 2023Updated: July 18, 2023

An English teacher wrongfully imprisoned in China for eight years has told of the horror inside Beijing’s prison system.

Marius Balo was locked in a windowless 12-metre-square cage for over two years before being moved to a forced labour camp concealed within Shanghai’s maximum security prison.

In his first UK interview, the Romanian theologist told NTD’s “British Thought Leaders” (BTL) programme how he only managed to survive the years of hell he endured at the hands of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) because of his faith.

Speaking to BTL’s Lee Hall, Mr. Balo—released from jail last year—revealed how his belief in God saved him from suicide.

He said: “The ground had been swept from under me, and sort of instinctively, I held on to that rope of faith.

“And I told God, I said, do with me, shake me off as much as you want—I’m not gonna let go because I have nothing else.

“If I let go of you, I’m gonna go bang my head against that wall and try to kill myself because that’s the state they want to bring you to.”

The 42-year-old moved to China in 2010 to work as an expert at XinDongFang Technology and Education Group.

In 2013, he accepted a professor position at Beijing’s Renmin University. Within 12 months, he was behind bars.

Chinese prosecutors claimed Mr. Balo was part of a criminal contracts fraud where he’d dishonestly received $80 from Chinese citizens.

He was thrown into prison where he would wait almost three years before being brought before a judge.

“I never saw the light of the sun for two years—two years, three months, and seven days,” he said.

“And during this period of time, nobody ever said that you were guilty or what you deserve. Why would you be punished like that with such extreme brutality, without anyone having served whether you’re guilty or not?”

Indoctrination Classes

The theologist found himself locked in cramped, inhumane, and humiliating conditions.

“You’re just thrown into this cage with several other people, usually 10 to 12 people, in one single cage and the cage is only 12 square metres,” Mr. Balo said.

“So about one square metre per person and you can’t talk to anyone—at least I couldn’t talk to anyone, very seldomly.

“Everything that happened in this in this particular cage and in this particular period of time was specifically designed so as to wear you down so you can’t communicate with anyone else.”

The teacher told how his very basic human rights were stripped away.

He was banned from contacting family and was forced to take part in daily CCP indoctrination sessions.

“You’re completely removed from the world,” he said. “You’re completely removed and set down in a different reality.

“This is their reality, the reality of the Communist Party and the way its justice system works.”

A guard looks through the window of a hallway inside the No.1 Detention Center during a regime-guided tour in Beijing on Oct. 25, 2012. (Ed Jones/AFP via Getty Images)

During “propaganda hours,” Mr. Balo described how he and other prisoners were forced to watch endless pro-CCP videos on a single TV in a cramped cell with no furniture.

“The only thing that exists in that room is a hole in the ground, and a corner where you’re expected to empty your bowels every day.

“And as I said, you’re forced to watch the TV but you’re actually forced to watch your fellow sufferers go through the motions because the hole is right under the TV.

“So you have to watch every single person do that, for an hour and a half.”

While on remand, he was kept awake at night by the sound of children crying.

“Sometimes we could hear at night children crying from the first floor because when they grab their parents, their dad or their mom, they grabbed the kids as well.

“And then they tell the parents if you want your kids to go home, you have to sign your confession.

“And I’ve witnessed people that the pressure is so intense that in the middle of the night they wake up and they push their button and they say ‘OK, I will confess that, let my babies go home,’ and within half an hour, the prosecutor shows up, picks up the confession and then you’re done. That’s it.

“There are very evil ways that [can] be used to coerce people into doing what they want them to do.”

Forced Labour

Mr. Balo said that for the first two years of being detained, he did not know whether he would be released, sentenced to life imprisonment, or be executed.

In China, those convicted of financial crimes can be sentenced to death.

“I was sentenced to eight years and I was sent to prison. It was a relief.

“I told the judge that I was not going to appeal no matter what sentence I will get.

“And I was being serious. I was so tired, so incredibly, incredibly sick and tired of that cage that I thought I had to stay for two years that I couldn’t take another year or two or three until the appeal ran its course, because you continue to stay there while the appeal is pending.”

Epoch Times Photo
A prison guard stands in a courtyard inside the No.1 Detention Center in Beijing, on Oct. 25, 2012. (Ed Jones/AFP via Getty Images)

Mr. Balo was moved to Shanghai’s infamous Qinpu prison where he was “regimented” into one of its many forced labour camps, where he worked over 12 hours a day.

“The building that we were housed was very close to the entrance to the prison,” he said.

“Every single day we could see just like on a highway, huge trucks coming in bringing in work materials and then huge trucks going out, taking out the finished product.”

All of the work, Mr. Balo claimed, was for well-known British, European, and American brands.

He said: “This was not for Chinese companies, this was all for Western companies.

“All the companies that you will see if you go to the mall, downtown London, all those famous brands—we did work for every single one of them.”

Eventually, a request for Mr. Balo to be moved to a prison in his home country of Romania was accepted by the Chinese authorities.

However, when COVID-19 hit in 2020, the move was delayed.

During that time, he found himself back in cage-like conditions where prisoners were banned from leaving their cells.

He was eventually released last year and has since learned that prison authorities have recently enforced stricter rules on prisoners, including a complete ban on contact with family and the outside world.

“The prison guards could just put them against the wall and shoot them and nobody would know,” he said.

“This is just the latest in this vicious game that they started playing just around the time of the new leadership.”

Asked what advice he would give anyone thinking of travelling to work in China, Mr. Balo said: “I would say China is a minefield, you just simply don’t know when you will step on a mine and it will take your foot or your life.

“I found myself all of a sudden locked up in a chair and interrogated and sentenced to eight years, completely out of the blue.”