Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – There are many brick kilns that are worse than the infamous Hongtong County kiln that employed scores of child slaves. Zhang Xiaoying, a parent who visited hundreds of kilns in Shanxi in search of her missing children, said that sentencing the operators of one is not enough to end slavery in the industry.
“We have visited many brick kilns and the one in Hongtong was not the worst,” she said. “The worst ones were in Yongji and Linyi. They had many foremen and we saw many children.”
“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 warned that slavery might re-emerge if powerful human traffickers like the one she met in Linyi were not arrested.
A court in Linfen sentenced Zhao Yanbing, 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, including foreman Heng Tinghan.
Kiln owner Wang Bingbing, son of the local party boss, got nine years in jail for unlawful confinement of human beings.
Zhao confessed that he killed a mentally disabled slave back in November because he was not quick enough in his work.
Officials from other factories also got a few years in jail. Here hundreds of workers (including more than a hundred minors) were held in slavery, forced to work without pay and poorly fed, under the surveillance of men and dogs, and often beaten.
In Linfen and Yuncheng (Shanxi) 95 low-level officials received administrative punishments. Some were sacked; others demoted, expelled from the Communist Party or merely received warnings. Only a few were charged.
Zhang Shanlin, whose abducted son Yinlei worked in the Hongtong kiln, said he was surprised by the relatively light sentence handed to kiln owner Wang Bingbing, suspecting this was the result of local cronism.
“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 foreman Heng Tinghan was given a life sentence whilst 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 was going to have another hearing on the victims' compensation claims, but it remained unclear when it would take place and how many victims would file claims.