A 6-year-old London girl discovered a plea inside a Christmas card purporting to be from foreign prisoners forced to do labor.
Florence Widdicombe was looking through the Christmas cards her mother had purchased from a Tesco supermarket when she discovered a card with a handwritten message on it, her father told the BBC.
The note asked that the recipient contact British journalist Peter Humphrey who was formerly imprisoned at Shanghai’s Qingpu from 2013 to 2015, The New York Times reported.
“We are foreign prisoners in Shanghai Qingpu Prison China,” the note said. “Forced to work against our will. Please help us and notify human rights organization.”
The child’s father, Ben Widdicombe, thought the message was “some sort of prank” at first.
“But on reflection we realized it was potentially quite a serious thing,” he said. “I felt very shocked but also felt a responsibility to pass it on to Peter Humphrey as the author asked me to do.”
“It hits home,” the father added. “There are injustices in the world and there are people in difficult situations and we know about that and we read about that each and every day.”
Tesco said it will delist the supplier of the cards, Zhejiang Yunguang Printing, if it finds the supplier used prison labor, the BBC reported.
Widdicombe passed the message on to Humphrey, who first reported on the story in The Sunday Times. Humphrey explained to the BBC that he spent two years in captivity, and nine of these years were spent in the “very prison in this very cell block where this message has come from.”
“So this was written by some of my cellmates from that period who are still there serving sentences,” Humphrey told the BBC.
The British journalist described “very bleak daily life” of prisoners who live in a cell block of foreign prisoners with “about 250 people” in it and 12 people per cell. The prisoners sleep in “rusty iron bunkbeds” without heating in the winter and without air conditioning in the summer, he said.
“I’m pretty sure this was written as a collective message,” he added. “Obviously one single hand produced this capital letters’ handwriting and I think I know who it was, but I will never disclose that name.”
The journalist also said that those who wrote the note “knew very well what risks they were taking and they were prepared to take this risk,” since if they were caught, Humphrey said, “they will be punished.”
“They could be punished for example by losing some merit points or having some kind of deprivation of some of their food allowance,” he said. “They could be punished by sending them to solitary confinement for a month or something like that where conditions are fairly harsh.”
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