Chinese police have captured a man accused of holding workers in virtual slavery, state media reported on Sunday amid a national scandal over rural teenagers and men forced to work in brutal, furnace-like brick kilns.
Heng Tinghan is accused of holding 31 workers in a kiln in Hongtong county in north China’s Shanxi province. Police caught him late on Saturday after a nationwide manhunt, the official Xinhua news agency reported.
Heng, a native of neighboring Henan province, was found on the run in central China’s Hubei province, Xinhua said. He is accused of operating a kiln where one worker died and 20 were injured while working under filthy and abusive conditions.
Heng has become one of the villains in a national drama over teenage and adult “slaves” forced or cheated into grueling labor in many kilns, mines and plants across Shanxi and Henan provinces.
The snowballing uproar threatens to stain the ruling Communist Party’s promises to build a “harmonious” society with improved rights and income for the nation’s hundreds of millions of poor farmers.
State television has reported owners of the primitive brick-making operations ran them like prisons with fierce dogs and beatings to deter escapes.
A sweeping police crackdown in Shanxi and Henan has so far freed 568 people from kilns and other work sites, including 22 under the age of 18 in Shanxi, Xinhua reported.
By Saturday, Shanxi police had held 25 people suspected of involvement in the virtual slave trade, Xinhua said.