U.S. Customs Service agents are investigating diesel engines imported from China by a Jamul dealer that human rights activists say were made in prison labor camps.
The engines are among items listed by human rights groups as products made by Chinese inmates, some of whom are political prisoners. Importation of products made by slave or convict labor is illegal under a 60-year-old federal law.
"It's a basic human rights issue," said Harry Wu, who was a political prisoner in China for 19 years and works with the human rights group Asia Watch.
Sale of the diesel engines has been blocked, and they will be shipped to a local customs warehouse this week, officials said.
Customs officials refused to identify the importer who was to receive the 50-case shipment of engines. But Wu and Asia Watch said the shipment, which arrived in Long Beach in October, was received by China Diesel Imports of Jamul.
Owner Hardy Day would not comment on the allegations.
Customs agents last Friday ordered the crates sent to federal officials, said Rex Applegate, assistant district director for commercial operations for customs. Agents inspected the crates and told the importer not to move or sell the engines, he said.
Customs officials have not yet determined whether the engines were indeed made by convict labor, he said.
Asia Watch and Wu have compiled a list of products made by Chinese prisoners based on State Department records, Chinese documents and interviews with former prisoners.
The list includes hand tools, machinery pieces, textiles and agricultural products. Establishing which items were made in prisons is difficult, authorities said.