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Foreign inmates revel in Shanghai prison's Christmas Eve celebration
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08:37, December 25, 2008

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As Christmas carols are sung in a large part of the world, a group of foreign prisoners in a Shanghai jail are also celebrating the festival in their own way, performing at a party.

In a meeting room decorated with Christmas trees, lights and balloons, 98 prisoners from the United States, Singapore, India, Nigeria and other foreign countries performed on Wednesday Chinese folk songs, yoga and magic tricks at a party organized by the Qingpu Prison in Shanghai.

Louis, a 39-year-old Cameroonian who was sentenced to four years jail in 2007 for credit card fraud, presented the famous Peking opera Sha Jia Bang and folk song Jasmine Flower.

"My Christmas wish is to be with my family as soon as possible," said Louis, who has learned to speak Chinese after a year in prison.

The Qingpu Prison started to take in non-Chinese criminals in 1998 and now has 98 foreign prisoners from 31 countries, said Wang Weihua, head guard for the prison's non-Chinese wards.

China's law rules those who commit crimes in Chinese territories are subjected to the legal provisions stipulated in the Criminal Law of China.

So far, there are more than 3,000 non-Chinese prisoners serving sentences in China in about 20 prisons across the country, Wang said.

Nick, an Australian who was sentenced in 2001 to 15 years for business- contract fraud, spent his eighth Christmas in prison.

"Managers of the prison are taking Christmas more seriously than before," he said. "The gatherings have been different each time."

For effective communication with the inmates, all of the nine guards are able to speak English, five of whom speak two foreign languages, Wang said.

According to the United Nations regulations on prisoner right protection, foreign prisoners in China enjoy international living standards, including daily showers, sports facilities and medical services.

"Their leisure time is mostly spent making handicrafts and learning Chinese," Wang said.

"The Prison also prepared a Christmas Eve dinner for them, mainly Western foods such as roast mutton, chicken, potatoes and even pizza," said Wang.

Among the joyous faces, that of 55-year-old Berhand looked exceptionally excited.

"This Christmas means a lot to me as I'm only a few months from freedom," he said.

So is Nick. "I used to go to the church on Christmas Eve for mass with my family and I'll be able to do that again soon," he said. Nick's sentence had just been reduced four years.

In prison governance, Wang said, all the foreigners are treated almost the same as their Chinese counterparts. Foreign inmates who are involved in physical conflicts must serve their sentences, but good behavior can be rewarded with mitigation.

Individual religious beliefs and customs, such as wearing beards, are respected by the Chinese prison.

About ten people share one ward, each equipped with a shower for everyday use.

The prison also offers online computers for e-mail. Many prisoners like watching English television news. Those who are capable of speaking Chinese read local newspapers. Portable radio sets are sold to prisoners who are interested in learning news and other information. Consulate officers are allowed to bring the inmates approved publications from home.

Many prisoners phone home frequently by using international calling cards purchased from the prison. Two visits per month by relatives or consulate officers are allowed, Wang said.

The prison even arranged the reunion of a married couple a few days ago. A Japanese man and his Chinese wife, who were imprisoned for the same crime, spent a two-hour dinner together.

An Nigerian inmate chanted in Chinese an ancient poem: "Abed, I see a silver light, I wonder if it's frost around. Looking up, I find the moon bright; Bowing, in homesickness I'm drowned."

Source: Xinhua

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