New scandal of mentally ill 'slave' workers

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 21 December, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 21 December, 2010, 12:00am

A brick factory in Shaanxi province has been accused of using mentally ill abductees as 'slave' labourers after a battered and bleeding man was discovered in the streets of a small town in the centre of the province on Sunday.

The 29-year-old man was reported missing in June from his home town 150 kilometres away, local media reported yesterday.

Liu Xiaoping said he had been held at a brick kiln where he and around a dozen other abductees had been forced to work in harsh conditions without pay, the Xian Huashang Daily reported.

Photographs published on the paper's website showed Liu dressed in a grubby pink jacket and with gaping wounds on his limbs. There were deep, festering gouges on his knees and legs, while both his hands were blackened and swollen and covered with scabs and seeping burns.

It is the second suspected slavery scandal to come to light in less than a fortnight, following the discovery last week of 12 workers from Sichuan who had been sold to a building materials factory in Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.

Liu said the Shaanxi factory - in Gaoling county, north of Xian - was holding at least 10 other people working without pay, the paper reported. However, police were unable to find evidence of their existence.

Liu, who came from Shanyang county southeast of the provincial capital, told the paper he had been abducted 10 months earlier by a man identified only as 'Old Fang'.

He was discovered by a 62-year-old native of his home town searching for his son, who also suffered from mental illnesses and disappeared at the same time as Liu.

Liu said the man's son - identified only by a pseudonym - had been among his fellow workers at the factory.

However, when police arrived at the factory, which was not named in mainland media reports, staff said they did not recognise Liu. Although they admitted 'Old Fang' had supplied a number of workers 'early in the year', they claimed he had told them they were members of his own family.

'Old Fang left this brick kiln in June or July this year,' one unnamed member of staff told the paper. 'He brought quite a few people to work here.

'Those people were all clearly mentally handicapped. Old Fang told us they were his relatives.'

The factory had been sending the workers' pay directly to Fang, the man told the paper.

After failing to discover other mentally handicapped people at the factory, police were continuing to search for Fang using other methods, the paper wrote.

Officials at Gaoling county government told the South China Morning Post yesterday that no one was available to comment.

In the Xinjiang case, however, the owner of the factory and the man who allegedly sold him the workers have both been arrested.

The source of the 'slaves' has since been traced to a shelter for drifting beggars in Sichuan province - an unlicensed charity run by a pig farmer named Zeng Lingquan .

The factory boss told local media he had paid a one-off fee for the workers and a monthly stipend, which he believed Zeng had been holding for their 'retirement'.

The two cases are the latest in a string of such stories to have come to light since the shocking discovery of hundreds of 'slave labourers' at out-of-the way brick kilns in 2007.