Officials punished for playing cards

Updated: 2007-07-09 23:31

TAIYUAN -- Five officials in Hongtong County in north China's Shanxi Province, the center of China's forced labor scandal, have been punished for playing cards when they should have been investigating the crimes.

Ma Heping, deputy secretary of the county disciplinary commission of the Communist Party of China (CPC), was given a warning, while Ren Qinglin, director of the commission's investigation department, received a "serious warning", the Linfen city CPC disciplinary commission said.

Three other officials -- Zhang Xiuying, Liu Baohu and Guo Sen -- were ordered to "make serious self-criticisms".

On June 19, Ren and the other three officials were caught by journalists reporting on the brick kiln forced labor scandal. The officials were playing cards in the office when they should have been investigating the scandal, a Hunan-based newspaper said.

Ren was quoted by the newspaper as saying, "We worked until 2:00 a.m. and we are tired. Today is the dragon-boat festival, so we are playing cards to relax a bit."

The story of the card games drew harsh public criticism.

A circular issued by the provincial disciplinary commission said the officials had undermined public confidence and all disciplinary officials in the province were required to learn from the case.

The use of forced laborers hit the headlines after more than 400 parents in central China's Henan Province posted a call-for-help letter on the internet last month, saying their missing children had been sold to small brick kilns in Shanxi and Henan as forced laborers.

By June 22, 359 people, including 12 children, had been rescued from illegal brick kilns in Shanxi and police had arrested 38 people. Police in Henan rescued 217 people, including 29 children, and arrested 120 people in a four-day crackdown, in which, more than 35,000 police checked 7,500 kilns.

The forced labor scandal sparked a nationwide outcry and drew an apology from the Shanxi provincial governor, Yu Youjun, who promised to do everything in his power to tackle the issue.

The central government ordered a thorough investigation of the scandal and Premier Wen Jiabao pledged that lawbreakers who illegally employ children, force people to work or maliciously injure workers will be severely punished.

The Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPC), China's top legislature, on June 29 adopted the labor contract law following the exposure of forced labor scandals, which is expected to help protect workers' legal rights by making written contracts obligatory.

Under the new law, if employers don't sign written contracts with their employees within a year after employees begin working, then they are considered to have signed a permanent labor contract.

"Employers should not force employees to work overtime and employees can terminate the contract without fulfilling the notice period if they are forced to work by violence, threat or restriction of personal freedom," the law reads.

The law will come into effect on January 1, 2008.

Last Wednesday, five people went on trial in the Intermediate People's Court of Linfen City on charges connected to the scandal. The defendants included kiln boss Wang Bingbing, foreman Heng Tinghan and employees Zhao Yanbing, Heng Mingyang and Liu Dongsheng.

The People's Procuratorate of Linfen City said defendants Heng Tinghan, Zhao Yanbing and Liu Dongsheng had been charged with illegal detention and murder, while defendants Heng Mingyang, son of Heng Tinghan, and Wang Bingbing had to face illegal detention charges.

The results of the trial will be announced at a later date.

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