The local authorities in Hubei countered in a Wuhan Evening News report the same day (25 January) that they had already launched a campaign to “rectify illegal employment and crackdown on criminal behaviour,” and claimed they had now “plugged a leak in the organizational system, and eliminated a hidden danger, thereby promoting the healthy and orderly development of the local economy.”
The crackdown was initiated, the Wuhan Evening News said, after a labourer was beaten to death by his co-workers at a brick factory in Huangpi district, north of Wuhan, in the summer of 2008. The Huangpi labour bureau led an investigation into more than one thousand small enterprises, especially brick kilns and mines, employing over 100,000 workers in the district, and as a result, it said, some 5,000 workers had subsequently signed labour contracts.
The newspaper gave a detailed account of the Huangpi incident explaining how in February 2008, a gangmaster named Ye Huabing had lured around 20 mentally retarded people (智障人) and vagabonds (流浪人) from around Wuhan’s Hankou railway station to his brickyard in Huangpi, where they were held and forced to work excessively long hours for little or no pay.
In July, one of these young men was tortured with cattle prods and eventually killed by his co-workers because he had interrupted their midday rest. When Ye discovered the death, he ordered the men to bury the victim in a vegetable plot beside the workers’ shed. The identity of dead man was never uncovered.
Two months later, acting on a tip-off, police arrived at the brick factory and arrested Ye and the six men believed to be involved in the murder. In September 2009, the municipal Intermediate Court sentenced the principal assailant, Lin Jinguan, to life in prison, and Ye to three years in prison and a fine 10,000 yuan for the crime of forced labour, and another three years for the destruction of evidence. Three years is the maximum sentence for forced labour in China.