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Fake News! British former journalist fabricates ‘foreign forced labor’ in another attempt to defame China

By Xian Jiangnan, Liu Yeting, Kou Jie, Yu Yang (People's Daily Online)    19:42, December 24, 2019

A British girl discovered a message inside of a box of charity Christmas cards bought from British grocery giant Tesco saying it had been packed by inmates. (Screenshot from CBS News)

China on Monday denied accusations of forced labor at a Shanghai prison after media reported that a British girl found a message hidden in a Christmas card saying it had been packed by inmates, a piece of news later proved to be a “prank”.

The allegations came to light when The Sunday Times reported that six-year-old Florence Widdicombe from Tooting, south London, discovered a message inside of a box of charity Christmas cards bought from British grocery giant Tesco, reading “We are foreign prisoners in Shanghai Qingpu Prison China. Forced to work against our will. Please help us, notify human rights organization and contact Mr. Peter Humphrey.”

The news suddenly captured worldwide attention, while many doubt its authenticity. Coincidently, or maybe not, Peter Humphrey mentioned in the message is exactly the writer of the article, a British former journalist who was imprisoned in Qingpu Prison in Shanghai for over two years for trafficking personal data.

Peter Humphrey is a British former journalist who was imprisoned in Qingpu Prison in China. (Screenshot from The Globe and Mail)

In his report, Humphrey said he contacted several members of ex-prisoners in Qingpu Prison, who confirmed they had been packing Christmas cards for Tesco for at least two years, and were “being forced into mundane manual assembly or packaging tasks” for other Western companies. However, he didn’t mention the identity of these prisoners and the names of those Western companies.

On Monday, Zhejiang Yunguang Printing, the Chinese firm that supplies greeting cards to Tesco, slammed these “unfounded claims”, adding that they don’t have labor from Shanghai Qingpu Prison, according to Global Times.

China’s Foreign Ministry also dismissed the allegations, saying it was “just a drama choreographed by Mr. Peter Humphrey”. “After verifying with relevant departments, we know for sure that there is no forced labor of foreign prisoners in Qingpu Prison in Shanghai,” noted Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang.

The news has also received wide attention from netizens, many of whom questioned whether it was credible. (Screenshot from comments under BBC News’ official Facebook account)

The news has also received wide attention from netizens, many of whom questioned whether it was credible. “There is so much misinformation, it’s almost impossible to say with any certainty where it came from,” reads a Facebook user’s comment.

This is not the first time that Humphrey has popped out into the spotlight with a headline or two. In 2018, after he confessed to charges he illegally bought and sold the personal information to clients, he asked Britain’s media regulator to revoke the broadcast license of China’s state television for helping to stage his allegedly forced confession and subsequent jailing in China.

In response to Humphrey’s accusations, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng said in a regular press briefing in November 2018 that China hoped Britain can support and facilitate the reporting work of international media in the UK. “China’s judicial departments handle cases according to the law, and safeguard the legal rights and interests of foreigners in China,” he added.

Fake stories concerning China stitched up by Western media is not unusual over these last few years. Last month, a piece of seemingly explosive news was reported by Australian media about a self-proclaimed spy Wang Liqiang who sought asylum in Australia, claiming to have reportedly given authorities information about operations in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Australia, which incurred heavy criticism from Australian media and politicians that China has interfered in the country's politics and universities. Ironically, Wang later confessed to fraud, making the story into a farce that put Australian media to shame.

Similarly, it is not surprising that Humphrey came back to the spotlight after one year of silence with a fake story, to which spokesman Geng replied by providing him with the advice that “if you want to grab more eyeballs, at least come up with some new tricks.” 

Related: China refutes forced foreign labor claims at Shanghai prison

(For the latest China news, Please follow People's Daily on Twitter and Facebook)
(Web editor: Xian Jiangnan, Bianji)

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