An owner of a shelter for the mentally ill was detained late Monday evening in southwestern China's Sichuan Province for allegedly selling mentally disabled people to a factory, said local authorities on Tuesday.
Zeng Lingquan was suspected of selling people under his care in Quxian of Sichuan to a factory in Toksun County of northwestern China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, where they were enslaved, according to the publicity department of the county's government.
A rescue team of 12 members from Quxian was heading for Xinjiang to free the workers involved in the slavery scandal, according to Xu Jiajun, head of the team.
A reportedly enslaved Chinese mentally disabled worker is seen at a building-materials factory near Turpan, in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, Saturday.
The factory in Toksun County had been shut down, said Yang Jin, Party secretary and deputy head of the county, at a press conference Monday evening.
Also an investigation team has been sent to the factory, Yang said.
Li Xinglin, owner of the factory, fled for the southwestern Sichuan Province on Sunday, taking about a dozen mentally disabled workers with him. He took the train at 7:00 p.m., Yang said.
Police from Toksun are coordinating with their counterparts in Sichuan to hunt Li down.
Li's wife is currently in police custody.
The factory, Jiaersi Green Construction Material Chemical Factory, was registered on July 16, 2006. Covering more than 6,667 square meters, it produces talcum powder and quartz sand.
On Dec. 10, reporters from Xinjiang Metropolis News were tipped off that Jiaersi was using mentally ill workers, and went to the factory and interviewed the owner about pollution as a foil to view the conditions there.
Some neighbors of the factory said that other similar plants in the area were closed from October to March every year, and workers could receive at least 150 yuan each day. But workers at Jiaersi worked all year round without pay, according to the reporters.
The floor of the workshop was covered with thick dust, but workers had no masks, the reporters wrote, noting that they appeared to be intellectually challenged.
The reporters quoted Li Xinglin as saying that his workers were from Quxian County's shelter for beggars in southwest China's Sichuan Province. The shelter, also called the disabled self-reliance group, was an adoption agency for the physically and mentally disabled, organized by local farmer Zeng Lingquan.
The shelter had no operation license, said Wang Yong, director of Quxian County Civil Affairs Bureau.