Kiwi describes four-year Chinese jail nightmare

21:33, Mar 20 2013
Danny Cancian
HOME AGAIN: Danny Cancian.

A Kapiti businessman locked up for four years in a Chinese jail has told of the "cruel" conditions he endured, including torture, beatings and forced labour.

Danny Cancian, now 46, was sentenced to five years' jail for manslaughter after fatally kicking a man during a restaurant fight in 2008.

He served four years of that sentence, most of it in Dongguan prison in the Guangdong province in southern China.

Danny Cancian
GRIM TALE: Danny Cancian, of Kapiti, presents placards in a YouTube clip that tells his story of brutal treatment and violence in a Chinese prison.

» More on life inside Dongguan prison

For all that time, he says he was unable to exercise, was kept in a cell with at least 18 other prisoners and subjected to violent discipline and solitary confinement.

He learnt quickly the horrors of isolation after a scuffle with a guard early in his sentence. "All the police came running in. They Tasered me and they beat me. Then I was put in isolation for two weeks."


Isolation was a three-by-one-metre cell with a hole in the floor for a toilet. From seven in the morning, he would sit there, arms and legs folded, unable to move.

"At nine o'clock they let you sleep, but then they wake you every 20 minutes."

When not in solitary confinement, he spent his days forced to work in a factory, making earphones for airlines.

"Every morning at 5am they would march us all to the factory and at 7pm we would come back. If you don't work you'll get beaten, Tasered and pepper-sprayed and put in isolation. It gives me a lot of nightmares just thinking about what I went through."

He arrived back in New Zealand on November 29, but said yesterday that he still struggled to adjust to normal life after the strict routine of prison.

He can no longer face eating rice, which was a staple in prison, usually served with boiled cabbage and old meat. "The first thing I did at the airport was have McDonald's and a beer," he said.

It was an emotional reunion with his immediate family, who had not seen him inside. His brother, Anthony, visited him in his first year, but Mr Cancian did not want his wife or children to see him in jail.

His children are grown up now - his son is 24, and his daughter 22. He has a granddaughter he met for the first time last year. Until then, he had seen her only in photos.

Staff from the New Zealand embassy visited him, but he said there was nothing they could do.

He has since told his story on YouTube, using handwritten placards that tell a tale of what he calls the real China. The placards include the words forced labour, long hours, beatings, Tasering, hunger, torture, sleep deprivation, pepper spray, no religion, little contact with family, chemical testing on prisoners, no human rights, suicide and death.

Mr Cancian was in China when the manslaughter incident happened because he had a business selling shower chairs he had invented for stroke victims. The chairs were made in China.

The fight happened in a family restaurant in a town outside the provincial capital of Guangzhou, where he was eating with a workmate and his Chinese translator.

He said his workmate was in the toilet when two men grabbed his translator, and another three attacked Mr Cancian.

He recognised them from two days before when one of them had shoulder barged him outside the same restaurant, he said.

"I said, ‘You should say excuse me.' [He] tried to attack me, and security stopped him."

He was punched in the face in the second attack, he said.

"I threw one of them to the ground, I thought it was all over . . . Then one of them smashed me in the back of the head with a chair."

After that, he kicked the man on the ground in the face.

The man suffered a brain bleed and died later in hospital. Mr Cancian was charged with manslaughter, and ordered to pay his victim's family $90,000.

He hopes viewers of his video will help him petition the New Zealand Government to bring overseas prisoners home.

A spokeswoman for the Chinese embassy in Wellington said: "The issue of basic rights for inmates is an important component of overall human rights in China. China has joined international human rights conventions that require signatory nations to fulfil relevant obligations that include the protection of rights for inmates."


On March 1, there were 90 New Zealand detainees listed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, held in 26 different countries.

Of those, 32 were in the United States, including 12 charged with immigration breaches, and two with murder.

Australia has just nine prisoners listed, but there are thought to be hundreds more. Other countries include Vanuatu, Thailand, The Philippines, Japan, Hong Kong, Cambodia and China. The ministry said the list was only of prisoners who had registered with it. "Some people choose not to seek consular assistance from us."

The longest sentence is 20 years, pending confirmation, which is believed to be for a drugs trafficker on death row in China, who was petitioning last year to have his death sentence commuted to a life sentence.

The Dominion Post