The factory owner Li Xinglin had, since 2006, forced 18 mentally disabled people, including 12 trafficked from the so-called “Beggars Adoption Agency” of Qu county in Sichuan, to work excessively long hours in appalling conditions for no pay. They were beaten if they tried to escape and fed the same food as Li’s dogs.
In September last year, one of the workers was killed after falling into a machine at the building materials factory in Toksun county. Li buried the body and did not report the death to the authorities.
The abuses only came to light after an investigative report was published in the Xinjiang media on 13 December last year.
The relatively light sentences handed down by the Toksun County Court highlights once again the disparity between the punishments for forced labour and other criminal offences such as kidnapping.
As the legal scholar Yang Zhizhu pointed out in 2007:
An illegal brickyard owner forces a person to work. The victim says: “I have money. I can ask my family to pay you if you let me go.” If the owner accepts his proposal, he will be convicted of kidnapping - a crime liable to between ten years to life imprisonment. But if he refuses, and continues to enslave the victim, he will only be sentenced to at most three years.
As Article 244 of China’s Criminal Law states:
Where an employer, in violation of the laws and regulations on labour administration, compels its employees to work by restricting their personal freedom, if the circumstances are serious, the persons who are directly responsible for the offence shall be sentenced to fixed-term imprisonment of not more than three years.
Serious offences are understood to include excessive physical labour, long hours without pay, threats, violence, humiliation, or other acts that cause physical and psychological damage. The provision was later amended to increase the punishment to seven years if the victims were children.