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Last Updated: Wednesday, 4 July 2007, 09:45 GMT 10:45 UK
Chinese slave labour trial begins
Shui Daoyu, who was rescued from an illegal brick kiln in Hongtong County of Shanxi Province after three months' slave labour
A former slave is treated for mental illness following his rescue
A trial has begun of 12 people who are accused of involvement in a slave labour scandal in illegal mines and brick factories in northern China.

Among those who went on trial on Wednesday are kiln boss Wang Bingbing and foreman Heng Tinghan, state news agency Xinhua said.

The charges include illegal detention, forced labour and murder, Xinhua said.

Almost 570 people trafficked as slaves, 50 of them children, have been freed in Shanxi and Henan in the last few weeks.

The scandal came to light after some 400 distraught parents of children who had been sold into slavery set up an online campaign to raise awareness of the issue.

The case drew widespread anger and unusually strong criticism from the state-run media. President Hu Jintao ordered an immediate inquiry.

Verdict soon

An official at the court in Linfen city, Shanxi, said no verdict would be given on Wednesday, but another hearing would be held soon to issue a decision.

Map

Among the defendants is Heng Tinghan, the 42-year-old foreman of a brick kiln in Hongtong county in Shanxi, who was arrested after a nationwide manhunt.

He is accused of holding captive adults and children as young as eight and forcing them to work long hours for nothing.

The boss of the kiln, Wang Bingbing - who is also on trial - is the son of the secretary of a local branch of China's ruling Communist Party.

There are expected to be more trials connected with the scandal, as police in northern China have now arrested more than 160 people suspected of involvement.

The factories were allegedly run like prisons with guard dogs and beatings to prevent escapes.

One of those held died last November, according to Xinhua.

It is thought that many more people are still being forced to work as slaves in appalling conditions.




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