Tue, Dec 24, 2019 - Page 1 News List

China lying about prison labor, says former inmate

AFP, LONDON

Florence Widdicombe, 6, poses in London on Sunday with a Tesco Christmas card from the same pack as a card she found containing a message from a prisoner in China.

Photo: AP

The Briton who made public a message in a Christmas card claiming to be from Chinese prisoners involved in forced labor yesterday dismissed Beijing’s denial as “lies.”

Peter Humphrey, a former fraud investigator and journalist, wrote an article about the note allegedly penned by foreign inmates in Shanghai’s Qingpu prison — where he himself was once held.

Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Geng Shuang (耿爽) denied there was any forced labor by foreign convicts at Qingpu and accused Humphrey of inventing a “farce” to “hype himself up.”

“I can tell you responsibly that, after seeking clarification from relevant departments, Shanghai Qingpu prison does not at all have ... forced labor by foreign convicts,” Geng said at a regular press briefing in Beijing.

Asked about the issue, Humphrey, who is now based in Britain, said: “It’s the kind of answer they have given to every allegation of human rights abuses that is ever mentioned.”

“This is really completely to be expected, because nothing except lies ever comes back to the world when any such issue arises,” he said.

The note was found by a London schoolgirl in a Christmas card sold by supermarket giant Tesco, and claimed to be from foreign prisoners in Qingpu “forced to work against our will.”

Tesco expressed shock at the revelation and announced it was stopping the sale of the cards and ceasing production at the Chinese factory involved while it investigated.

The note asked whoever received it to contact Humphrey, who spent nine months in Qingpu during almost two years in custody in China for illegally obtaining personal information — charges he dismissed as “bogus.”

Humphrey said he had never met the girl or her family, but when they got in touch and showed him a copy of the note, “I absolutely knew it was true, in my gut, because I know the handwriting.”

He would not name the author for fear of repercussions, but said it was not the first time prisoners in China had got a message out this way.

“It’s too dangerous for them to use correspondence, phone calls or consular meetings” to raise concerns about conditions, he said.

Humphrey said he did not hold Tesco responsible, if it were found to have used prison labor.

“China makes it impossible for a company to drill down right to the bottom of the supply chain to identify the small contractors,” he said.

He added that he believed the prisoners involved were working against their will.

“They don’t mean that they are chained to a factory table and whipped. What they mean is that they have been put in a position where they are coerced,” he said.

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