An American consulate officer has met with the University of Montana student being held in a Chinese detention center for allegedly assaulting a taxi driver and reported that he is physically and mentally fit.

Guthrie McLean, a UM senior, was arrested and detained in Zhengzhou on Sunday, July 16, while visiting his mother, an American teacher who lives in China.

McLean has not been charged with a crime, but Chinese police must present a recommendation on whether charges should be filed within seven days of detaining someone — a clock that runs out Friday, U.S. officials said.

Should he be formally charged, he could face up to another year in detention for case development, said his mother, Jennifer McLean. The filing of formal charges also could limit the effectiveness of diplomatic efforts to secure his release.

Guthrie was detained for assaulting a taxi driver which resulted in an injury to the driver’s knee, according to information relayed to his mother by Keith Devereaux, who works for American Citizen Services within the U.S. Embassy in Beijing.

The UM senior was arrested after an altercation five weeks earlier over cab fare between his mother, who is deaf, and a taxi driver. Both Guthrie and Jennifer McLean were detained Sunday, though Jennifer McLean was released that same day. 

Thursday morning, U.S. Sen. Steve Daines spoke with Chinese Ambassador to the U.S. Cui Tiankai. Tiankai was unaware Jennifer McLean was deaf and Daines stressed the urgent need for the release of her son, who is due to return to Missoula on Aug. 29 for school.

U.S. Sen. Jon Tester also is working the diplomatic channels. He said Thursday that U.S. Ambassador to China Terry Branstad "assures me he is working toward" Guthrie McLean's release.

"We are keeping an open dialogue with the State Department, the Embassy in China, and Guthrie’s mom to ensure he remains safe and healthy until he’s released — hopefully as soon as possible," Tester said.

The UM student is being held with 21 others in a cell in a detention facility in Zhengzhou, according to Devereaux. He is stressed, but otherwise in good physical shape.

Officials from the Wuhan Consulate General met with Guthrie McLean for approximately 40 minutes. Also present were three detention center officials and a detention center translator. Detention center officials videotaped the meeting, according to the information provided to Devereaux by the U.S. consulate in Wuhan.

After a message from Jennifer McLean was read to her son, he told her, "I love you. I am stressed out but otherwise OK. Please don’t worry too much and I hope you are getting some rest," according to the account Devereaux gave Jennifer McLean.

Chinese police have asked Jennifer McLean to pay for her son's release, something she has termed a "shakedown." She said the amount requested has dropped in the last few days to the U.S. equivalent of $7,400. But she still does not have the money to pay it.

She said students have posted a YouCaring site for donations.

While the Chinese have agreed to give Guthrie McLean access to a lawyer, Jennifer McLean has been unable to reach either of the law firms listed by the Embassy after repeated attempts and methods, she said Thursday by email.

The UM student grew up mostly in China and traveled to Zhengzhou in May to visit his mother. He planned to tour historic sites and a panda rescue center before returning to the U.S. to finish his degree in East Asian studies.

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