China slave scandal brings resignation calls
Monday, June 18, 2007; 7:23 AM
BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese media demanded official resignations and repentance on Monday amid popular outrage over the virtual enslavement of workers in scorching brick kilns that reports said had operated with government complicity.
Hundreds of farmers, teenagers and even some children were trapped or cheated into grueling work in kilns, mines and foundries across Shanxi province in north China and neighboring Henan province. Nearly 600 have been freed so far, reports said.
The workers endured prison-like confinement, with fierce dogs and beatings, local media reported. Released workers were shown on television with festering wounds and emaciated bodies.
One supervisor at a Shanxi kiln accidentally killed a child with a shovel and hid the body at night in November.
Heng Tinghan, who trafficked the 31 slave laborers to the kiln in Hongtong county, was formally arrested along with four accomplices on Monday on charges of illegal detention and mayhem, Xinhua news agency said.
Police have detained the supervisor, but Xinhua did not say if he was one of the five receiving the arrest warrants on Monday as well. Another three are wanted, Xinhua said.
The scandal has emboldened local media to bluntly demand answers from the usually unassailable ruling Communist Party and to demand official heads roll.
"Who'll assume responsibility for this crime that has lasted for over a decade?" asked the Southern Metropolis Daily, a popular tabloid.
Local officials now parading as liberators of trapped workers had long turned a blind eye to the human trade, it said.
"In many countries, a scandal like this would be enough to spark a major political crisis and crisis of confidence. But here in China to date there's not even a hint of resignations," the daily said.
On the Internet and via mobile text messages, some angry citizens urged people to wear blue ribbons on their wrists, bags and vehicles to show their outrage and support for the children and demand harsh punishment of owners and officials involved.
"It's a way of mobilizing people to show they're unhappy with the weakness of the government response so far," Chang Kun, a Beijing-based activist who has promoted the campaign, told Reuters.