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Chinese police rescue 30 disabled men in brick factory raids

Authorities say the mentally disabled men had been held as slave laborers. The raids occurred after an undercover TV reporter in Henan province who was sold to a brick factory exposed the abuse.

September 07, 2011|By Barbara Demick, Los Angeles Times
  • Liu Xiaoping, who is mentally disabled, recovers after being enslaved last year at a brick factory, among the hundreds of workers who have been held in slavery at brick kilns in China.
Liu Xiaoping, who is mentally disabled, recovers after being enslaved… (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles…)

Reporting from Beijing — Chinese police have raided brick factories scattered through a rural swath of Henan province and rescued 30 mentally disabled men who authorities say had been held as slave laborers.

The unusually public raids Monday were prompted by a report on Henan provincial television by a journalist who had gone undercover posing as a disabled man at a train station, where he was grabbed by a recruiter and says he was sold to a brick factory.

The case is an embarrassment for Chinese authorities, who have promised to stamp out slavery and the abuse of the disabled. In a 2007 scandal that shocked the nation, hundreds of people, including many teenagers, were rescued from brick factories and coal mines where they'd been held captive, tortured and poorly fed.

In the latest case, some of the slave laborers were reported to be blind. They had been held as long as seven years, working without pay. They had been beaten with belts on the back and the groin, according to the television report.

Eight people were arrested.

The television reporter, Cui Songwang, went undercover in mid-August. He spent three hours making bricks, during which, he said, he was beaten almost constantly. One of the people who beat him with a belt was a teenager who police later said was only 14.

Liu Yuxia, a civil affairs official in Dengfeng, one of the towns where a brick kiln was raided, said it was unclear whether the rescued workers would be able to testify against the factory owners because of their mental impairment.

"The men cannot tell their story well. They can't say how long they were working or for whom. Some of them can't even tell you where they are from," she said.

The rescues are getting considerable publicity in Chinese media, but advocates for the disabled are not optimistic about the prospects for longer-lasting reforms.

"These cases happen again and again. The police never follow up; nothing really happens," Zhang Wei, a Beijing lawyer who runs a nonprofit organization helping the disabled, said Wednesday. "My guess in this case is that these people will have to face criminal charges, but for what kind of crime? Intentional injury, involuntary confinement — or operating an illegal business, which will lead to a light sentence."

He Zhimin, a farmer from Shaanxi province, has been looking for his mentally disabled son since June of last year, when the son was offered $10 a day and a pack of cigarettes by a woman recruiting for brick factories.

"The police won't help me," He said. "They don't take these kinds of cases seriously."

barbara.demick@latimes.com

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