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China Kiln Worker Sentenced to Death in Slave Labor Case

One man has been sentenced to death and at least one other has been given a life sentence in the sensational case of slave labor in northern China. As Daniel Schearf reports from Beijing, the case uncovered a huge problem in official neglect of forced and child labor.

The sentences were handed down by the Intermediate People's Court in China's Shanxi province. A foreman named Zhao Yanbing was sentenced to death for killing a worker who was enslaved at the brick kiln where Zhao worked.

Zhao's supervisor, Heng Tinghan, was convicted of beating and enslaving workers, and sentenced to life in prison. Wang Bingbing, the owner of the kiln and the son of a local Communist Party village chief, was given nine years for illegally detaining workers.

The court said Heng had used agents to recruit workers at train stations with false promises. Instead of a decent job with good pay, the workers were forced to work up to 18 hours a day with little food and water. They slept in unsanitary and crowded rooms and were routinely beaten.

The case received widespread publicity inside and outside China and officials at the highest level condemned the situation. The political importance attached to the case was indicated when the deputy head of the Shanxi provincial high court, Liu Jimin, announced the verdicts on live state television.

Liu said the situation had harmed social order.

"Only by dealing with this severely and according to law ... can we face up to such crimes and safeguard citizens' lives, health and right to freedom, and protect social stability," Liu said.

The official China Daily newspaper reported that 26 other overseers at the kiln were given prison sentences, but did not elaborate.

The forced labor scandal gained attention after 400 fathers posted a letter on the Internet saying their children had been kidnapped and sold into forced labor at brick kilns in Shanxi and Henan provinces. The men said they had sought help from local officials and police, but were ignored.

Since the case came to light, the government has mounted a massive search-and-rescue campaign in the region and freed hundreds from forced labor in brick kilns and coal and iron mines.

Twenty-nine children, some as young as eight, have been found working at the kilns. Chinese media reports say there may be a thousand or more children still working in slave-like conditions.

China's official Xinhua News Agency says 95 party officials and civil servants have been punished and 33 officials have been fired for not preventing the forced labor.