China sentenced a man to death and jailed another 28 people for up to life on Tuesday for their roles in a massive slavery and child labor scandal involving scorching brickworks.
Owners, managers and enforcers at the prison-like kilns, which state media said numbered in the hundreds in the northern province of Shanxi, were convicted of charges including forced labor, illegal detention and causing injury, an official said.
Zhao Yanbing received the death penalty from the Linfen Intermediate People's Court for inflicting a beating that led to the death of a worker at a kiln in Hongtong county, at the centre of the scandal.
Zhao beat the worker with a shovel for being slow and buried the body after he died the next day in his dormitory, the door and windows of which were locked to prevent workers fleeing.
Heng Tinghan, who ran the kiln where 31 workers -- including nine with mental illnesses -- labored 14-16 hours a day for little or no pay, was jailed for life, said Liu Jimin, deputy head of the Shanxi provincial high court.
Chinese media said in June that hundreds of farmers, teenagers and some children had been forced or lured to work in kilns like the one Zhao helped run, enduring prison-like confinement and brutal beatings and kept at bay by fierce dogs.
TV news showed released workers with emaciated bodies and festering wounds, and China's leaders promised to punish those involved.
Many of them were forced to work in the kilns that had yet to cool down as owners tried to maximize production, leading to serious burning, Liu said.
The black brick kiln incident is an ugly social phenomenon and an ulcer in socialist China ... we must get rid of it, Liu told a news conference in Shanxi's provincial capital, Taiyuan, that was broadcast live on state television.
Shanxi authorities announced penalties against 95 county- and township- level officials on Monday for lax supervision and dereliction of duty that allowed the brick kilns to exist.
They said investigators found no evidence of official corruption or collusion in the scandal -- which Chinese media widely alleged -- and only six government workers would be charged.
But the efforts to pacify the indignant public failed to satisfy many, who argued that the government was only eager to close the case and had no intention to hold high-ranking officials accountable or to tackle corruption.
This way, people's feeling of powerlessness always persists, the Southern Metropolis Daily said in an editorial on Tuesday.
The editorial accused authorities of excluding the media and the hundreds of parents who believed their children were cheated or trafficked to the Shanxi kilns and who first brought attention to the problem.
Discussions about the above-mentioned larger issues (such as serious corruption) are squeezed to a certain scope and seething public anger is targeted at individual cases, the editorial said.
Of the 28 imprisoned, two were sentenced to 36 and 12 months respectively for using and beating a child laborer under 16, while a total of 16 people were tried or arrested for hiring 14 children, said Liu, the Shanxi court official.
Chinese media previously said the number of children confined in Shanxi kilns could be as many as 1,000.