Following a report in a British newspaper about a London schoolgirl finding out a message in a Christmas card that claimed that it was from inmates at Shanghai’s Qingpu Prison who were forced into labour and after Tesco suspended ties with the Chiense supplier of the cards, China on Monday denied all such allegations about prisoners being used for forced labour.
Production of the cards at a factory in China had been stopped by it, British supermarket giant Tesco said at the weekend, after the revelation of the card by the schoolgirl that had been bought form Tesco and supplied from China. The revelation was made in the Sunday Times newspaper.
China however strongly denied the allegations and said that it was “made up”.
“I can tell you responsibly that, after seeking clarification from relevant departments, Shanghai Qingpu prison does not at all have … forced labour by foreign convicts,” said foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang at a regular press briefing in Beijing.
Former journalist Peter Humphrey who wrote the article in the newspaper was also attacked by Geng, saying that Humphrey had invented a “farce” to “hype himself up”.
Humphrey and his wife had been detained in Qinqpu prison until 2015.
According to the newspaper report, the note allegedly form a prison inmate forced to package the cards, the person who found the card and the message was requested to get in touch with Humphrey. This was done by the father of the schoolgirl who found the card with the message. The story was then taken to the Sunday Times by Humphrey.
“We are foreign prisoners in Shanghai Qingpu Prison China,” said the message, in a charity card featuring a kitten in a Santa hat “Forced to work against our will. Please help us and notify human rights organisation.”
In the article published by in the news paper and written by him, Humphrey said that he was jailed on “bogus charges that were never heard in court”. He also added that the writers of the note were certainly “Qingpu prisoners who knew me before my release.”
Both domestic and international prisoners are held at the Qingpu Prison. The website of the prison facility says that holding foreign inmates from 40 nationalities “offers a lawful platform for cultural exchange”.
A number of modern looking buildings are shown in the website. One of the buildings has a glass facade, behind a green lawn and a blue sky. A writing on the building says it offers inmates “lessons on general law, morals, culture, skills and other basic education”.
However the claims made on the website are completely different form the experiences shared by former inmates who claimed that the prison system in China is notoriously opaque.
After being contacted by the girl’s family, fellow ex-prisoners had been contacted by him, Humphrey said. Inmates in the foreign prisoner unit had been forced to pick designs and then packaged the Tesco cards for at least two years, one of the former inmates reportedly said. Their work included sealing of the packages and then putting them into shipping cartons.
“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,” said Britain based Humphrey when contacted by AFP for his response on China’s statement.
“It’s too dangerous for them to use correspondence, phone calls or consular meetings” to raise concerns about conditions, he said.
(Adapted form ChannelNewsAsia.com)