07/10/2007, 00.00
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Authorities in damage-control mode over slavery to repair China’s image

The authorities are putting pressure on parents and victims’ lawyers not to talk about their relatives’ enslavement to the press. Under existing legislation culprits can get only three to seven years in prison

Beijing (AsiaNews) – Beijing has stepped up a massive damage-control operation to bury the brick kiln slavery scandal. But the All-China Lawyers' Association has called for a new anti-slavery law.

The discovery of human trafficking involving adults and children abducted in Henan and Shanxi and forced to work in mines or brick kilns has shocked public opinion both in China and around the world. Increasingly there appears to be something quite sinister about China’s rise to big power status.

Government officials have tried to silence those involved, mass media and especially victims’ parents, in order to limit the damages to China’s international reputation. According to witnesses who spoke to the South China Morning Post, parents are in fact coming under pressure from the government to avoid talking to journalists about their searches and discoveries.

Lawyers representing victims in legal actions against slave factory owners have also been told not to talk to reporters.

In one case media reports said the first trial had begun without victims being told. This trial involves Wang Bingbing, the owner of a brick kiln in Caosheng village and son of the local party boss, and his foreman Heng Tinghan. Both have been charged with illegal detention and murder for the death of at least one worker.

Parents and media have questioned why child abuse was not included in the charges against the defendants since many of the slaves were under age.

Kiln owner Wang Bingbing’s father Wang Dongji, continues to insist he was unaware of the forced labour. However, many parents have testified that he used to visit the kiln.

Both Wangs were expelled from the Party.

Thanks to Shanxi Governor Yu Youjun’s newly found zeal in law enforcement, a crackdown on brick kilns and human traffickers should be concluded by the middle of this month.

Parents are complaining however that despite inspections their children have not yet been found, some years after they disappeared.

At the same time the All-China Lawyers' Association sent a letter to the National People's Congress Standing Committee, asking that a new forced-labour law with tougher penalties be introduced. None of the existing rules explicitly covers slavery. In fact under existing legislation, forced labour is only punished with three years in jail, seven if children are involved.

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