Worst kilns still open, say slaves' parents

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 18 July, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 18 July, 2007, 12:00am

There are many brick kilns worse than the infamous Hongtong county kiln and sentencing the operators of one is not enough to end slavery in the industry, a parent, who visited hundreds of kilns in Shanxi in search of her missing children, said.

Zhang Xiaoying , one of the parents who blew the whistle on the ruthless trade, said kiln slavery could go on because some powerful human traffickers and kiln owners in other parts of Shanxi had not been arrested.

'We have visited many brick kilns and the one in Hongtong was not the worst ... The worst ones were in Yongji and Linyi . They had many foremen and we saw many children there.'

The worst owner she came across owned several brick kilns, distributed slaves to other kilns and used an official's car licence plate.

'There were so many foremen there that you could hardly even get close to the kiln because they were holding sticks in their hands,' she said. 'When we finally got in there after reporting it to the police, children tugged at our trousers and begged us to bring them out, but the local police refused to help.'

She had also heard of killings of slaves at other kilns.

Ms Zhang warned that slavery might re-emerge if powerful human traffickers like the one she met in Linyi were not arrested.

Beijing has been eager to wrap up the case by staging a high-profile trial of the purported culprits from the Hongtong brick kiln, though many parents say it will be a show trial unless other owners face punishment.

A court in Linfen sentenced a foreman of the Hongtong kiln to death yesterday, and jailed 10 people for between two years and life for using slaves in their brick kiln.

Zhang Shanlin , whose abducted son Zhang Yinlei worked in the Hongtong kiln, said he was surprised by the relatively light sentence handed to kiln owner Wang Bingbing , son of the village Communist Party boss.

He suspected this was the result of local protectionism.

'Those in Shanxi got lighter sentences and those from Henan got heavier sentences,' he said.

Henan lawyer Liu Jianzhuang , who represented some of the victims in the trial, said he was surprised kiln operator Heng Tinghan was given a life sentence while foremen Zhao Yanbing was given the death sentence.

'Heng should be the mastermind and he should get the most severe punishment. Zhao is only a foreman he hired who followed his instruction,' Mr Liu said.

He said the court would have another hearing on the victims' compensation claims, but the date had not been announced and it remained unclear how many victims would file claims for compensation.