Lourdes Figueiredo is the owner of a cake shop in Yonkers. One day, as she was opening some cake boxes, she was shocked to see these words written on the back of the packaging:
“Made in china prison. I want freedom.”
“When I saw that, it caught me off guard, and I was just like oh my god, so I took a picture of it and I put it on social media just to show people what I found in my package, because I’ve never seen this before in my packages,” said Figueiredo.
It was only a few words, but it left a deep impression on her.
“All my friends thought it was crazy. Everybody felt very bad, they were all very sad that I found something like that. Because everybody—we’ve heard things that—they go through a lot of stuff in those kind of prisons so we feel bad for those people,” she said.
This is not the first cry for help from a Chinese labor camp. There have been many reports of such incidents. Many of the people in Chinese labor camps are prisoners of conscience who have been illegally detained and put in camps without proper trials.
The United States and China have signed various trade agreements that prohibit the import of prison labor goods.
China has denied that it exports goods made in labor camps, despite evidence to the contrary.
Zhang Yijie used to work for the Chinese Communist Party, in the Ministry of Foreign Trade and Economic Co-operation. She had personally put out documents denying the export of labor camp goods.
However, when Zhang started practicing Falun Gong, a spiritual practice that is banned by the Chinese Communist Party, she was imprisoned in a labor camp in Beijing for two years and forced to make goods for export.
“At the time, all the Falun Gong practitioners in the labor camps were forced like slaves to produce products for export. What kind of export products? The ones I’ve made, and I’ve personally experienced hardship in making the labor camp products, I’ve made knitted sweaters, knitted hats, knitted gloves, knitted scarves, viscose shoes, disposable chopsticks, yarn, embroidered coasters, the kind of traditional-style decorations that were very pretty,” said Zhang.
The conditions were very poor and the inmates were subjected to torture. Because she was not willing to stop practicing, Zhang was not allowed to sleep for 24 hours. As a result, she lost much of her vision.
The note discovered by Figueiredo means that labor camps are still operating in China, despite the country announcing that it had shut them down.