Slavery: five held, party boss expelled

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 19 June, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 19 June, 2007, 12:00am

More arrests in kiln scandal's crackdown

At least five people have been arrested over the brick kiln slavery scandal in Shanxi province and a village party boss has been expelled from the party after his son was detained for being the kiln's owner.

Police are still looking for three more suspects.

Zhang Mingqi, a secretary of the national trade union, said yesterday that Wang Dongji, party secretary of Caosheng village in Hongdong county, had been expelled from the Communist Party.

Wang's son, Wang Bingbing, owned the kiln in Hongdong county, which he contracted out to Heng Tinghan, who hired others to keep abducted workers from escaping. Heng is also accused of being responsible for the death of a worker in November. Earlier reports said Heng's wife, Yang Xiaolan , was detained on Saturday.

Wang Bingbing, Heng and three of the six men Heng hired had been arrested, Xinhua said yesterday. It did not say if any party or government officials would be held responsible for the slavery scandal, nor did it mention Yang's detention.

Mainland media have run strongly worded editorials in the past few days calling for the resignation of leading officials, pointing out that the scandal could not have happened without their complicity.

Although slavery has also been reported in neighbouring Henan province , the spotlight has focused on Shanxi after parents reported that police there had done little to help rescue their abducted children.

As well as the death of a worker in November, 16-year old Chen Chenggong , who escaped from Heng's brick kiln, told the Yanzhao Metropolitan Daily he had seen other workers killed.

Zhang Shanlin , whose son was left without treatment for more than a month after he was severely burnt in a kiln, was furious yesterday when told Wang Dongji had been expelled from the party but not arrested.

'Wang Dongji's home is just a dozen metres from the kiln and workers told me he visited the kiln every three to five days,' Mr Zhang said. 'Of course he is involved and responsible. My son is crippled after he was injured and when I went to rescue him, the local police asked me to first pay the medical fee before I could take him home.'

As evidence that local police knew about the slavery, China Business News published a report yesterday showing a receipt for an 11,000 yuan fine issued to Wang Bingbing by local police on May 31.

The newspaper quoted members of Wang's family as saying he paid a total of 33,000 yuan to the police as 'fines'. It quoted the family as saying local officials were aware of the existence of the kiln but turned a blind eye as long as the kiln paid the 'fines'.

Internet surfers posted messages on chatrooms and blogs saying they were ashamed and appalled by the slavery trade and demanding punishment for officials.

Shanxi party secretary Zhang Baoshun is believed to be a close ally of President Hu Jintao .

Mainland media reported earlier that the government had ordered prompt arrests and a quick conclusion of the case. But the crackdown has done little to comfort many heart-broken parents waiting for the return of their children.

Chai Wei , who was one of the five parents who visited more than 100 brick kilns in Shanxi to look for their abducted children and helped to bring the scandal to light, said he had heard nothing from the government.

He urged the government to look for the children in mountainous areas of Shanxi because escaped children had told him that many of the child and mentally retarded workers were hidden there by kiln operators.