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"As long as human rights are violated, there can be no foundation for peace. How can peace grow where speaking the truth is itself a crime?"

China police rescue slaves from brick kiln

June 6, 2010

Chinese police have freed 33 slave labourers who were held in a brickworks and tortured with electric shocks when they disobeyed their masters.

The brutal conditions at the kiln — the latest to be exposed in a series of rural slavery scandals — came to light when a man escaped and told police. The farmer, named as Mr Song, had made his way from the dirt-poor coal-producing Shanxi province in northwestern China to a city farther east, where he hoped to earn more to feed his family back home.

The moment that he arrived at Shijiazhuang railway station on April 17, he was approached by a stranger and offered a job.

Instead of the promised employment, Mr Song found himself working as a slave with 33 other men at the brick kiln.

Conditions were appalling. The workers were regularly beaten, and those who protested were given electric shocks. At night they were herded into a room and the door was locked. They were not paid and were forced to work between 14 and 18 hours a day and watched at all times by guards — who even followed them into the latrines.

But Mr Song was not cowed. He tried to escape but was swiftly recaptured and beaten with staves. On the evening of May 18, he made another attempt. This time he succeeded, and went to the police. They organised their forces and launched a raid to take the owners by surprise. They struck early in the morning on May 21 and arrested 11 people — including the foreman and owner. They also found the machine used to administer the electric shocks.

The raid on the kiln follows a series of slavery scandals. The most prominent, in 2007, was uncovered when an investigative journalist led authorities to thousands of people forced to work at similar kilns in Henan and Shanxi provinces. The workers were also subjected to regular beatings, locked in squalid conditions at night, fed near-starvation diets and not paid.

A parliamentary investigation said that 53,000 migrant workers had been employed in more than 2,000 brick kilns in Shanxi province alone.

Since 2007 reports of slavery have surfaced sporadically — sometimes involving teenagers who left home in the search of work — suggesting that a crackdown has failed to halt unscrupulous bosses, some of whom are believed to be in collusion with the authorities.

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