Police have detained 168 suspects and captured a foreman accused of holding
workers in virtual slavery amid a national uproar over teenagers and men forced
to work in brutal conditions at brick kilns.
The large-scale police operation was aimed at rescuing hundreds of slave
laborers in small brick kilns and mines in Shanxi and Henan provinces.
Forty-eight people who were allegedly involved in the use of slave labor were
detained in Shanxi, while the others were held in Henan, local police sources
By Saturday, 351 people, including 22 under the age of 18, were freed after
police stormed more than 3,700 small brick kilns and coal mines, many of them
unlicensed, in Shanxi, the country's biggest coal producer.
Heng Tinghan, a 42-year-old foreman of a brick kiln in Hongtong county, was
arrested late Saturday after the Ministry of Public Security put him on the most
Heng is suspected of forcing people to work as slaves in a brick kiln for
which he was a contractor from March 2006. One of them died and 20 were injured
under inhumane working conditions.
When caught in Hubei, Heng apologized for mistreating the workers but refused
to accept responsibility for the death of the mentally-impaired man, a Hubei
"I felt it was a fairly small thing, hitting and swearing at the workers and
not giving them wages," Heng said, according to the Shiyan Evening News. "The
dead man had nothing to do with me."
Wang Bingbing, the kiln owner, and four taskmasters have been detained. Heng
was the contractor of Wang's kiln and police are hunting for two other suspects.
Wang Dongji, Party branch secretary of Caosheng Village, Shanxi, is being
investigated after his son was found to be the owner of an illegal brick kiln
which forced 32 people into work.
A few county-level officials are also being investigated.
In Central China's agricultural province of Henan, a major source of slave
workers, police have detained 120 suspects.
They freed 217 workers, including 29 aged under 18 and 10 mentally-impaired
persons, according to the Henan provincial public security bureau.
Five gangs involved in organizing slave workers for brick kilns, in
Zhengzhou, capital of Henan, have been busted and 13 members arrested.
The use of slave workers came under the spotlight after an open
"call-for-help" letter posted on the Internet earlier this month by more than
400 parents in Henan who believed their missing children had been sold as slave
The fathers said most of their children were abducted or tricked by
traffickers at railway and bus stations in Zhengzhou and sold in Shanxi for 500
Some parents of the missing children in Henan had gone to brick kilns in
Shanxi to try to rescue their children before the scandal was widely reported in
the domestic media.
Many were forced to work 14 to 20 hours a day without payment; and beaten if
they were caught trying to escape.
China's top authorities have expressed great concern.
A working team comprising officials from the Ministry of Public Security, the
Ministry of Labor and Social Security and the All-China Federation of Trade
Unions has gone to Shanxi to investigate the case.
Sun Baoshu, vice-minister of labor and social security, said the case "had an
extremely bad impact". Sun, also head of the team, pledged that those involved
in the sale and use of slave workers face the full force of the law.
China Daily, Xinhua and agencies
(China Daily 06/18/2007 page1)