A Nigerian prisoner who wrote a chilling plea on a Tesco Christmas card from inside a Chinese jail has said he and a fellow inmate wrote similar messages in 10 boxes of cards.
The man, named only as Antoine, who got out the prison two months ago after a four-year stretch for alleged contract fraud, heard one of his notes had been found after he returned home.
The message said it was from foreign residents in Shanghai’s Qingpu prison and claimed detainees were forced to work ‘against our will’.
It was found by Florence Widdicombe from Tooting, south London, and asked her to contact former journalist Peter Humphrey, which the schoolgirl’s father did.
Antoine, 35, told the Sunday Times: ‘We thought about putting a message in some of the products we were forced to work on for the Chinese market.
‘But we knew these cards were going to the UK. It was fantastic when a card was found in London — we were successful.’
Antoine and the other Nigerian who was cage for life for drug offences, decided to act last summer after a new warden last April said foreign prisoners would join Chinese ones in forced labour.
Antoine wrote six of the messages and his partner wrote four.
Tesco suspended the Chinese supplier of the Christmas cards last week and said it had launched an investigation.
It is now unlikely the nine other message will be found.
Last week China denied the ‘made up’ claims that prisoners were being used as slaves in the jail.
Tesco suspended the Chinese supplier of the Christmas cards last Sunday and said it had launched an investigation.
But China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang last week said:
‘I can responsibly say, according to the relevant organs, Shanghai’s Qingpu prison does not have this issue of foreign prisoners being forced to work.’
He dismissed the whole story as made-up and ‘a farce created by Mr. Humphrey’, who was himself detained in Qinqpu prison until his release in 2015.
Humphrey did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the ministry’s statement.
The cry for help from cards sold by Zheijiang Yunguang Printing throws a spotlight on the plight of thousands in Chinese prisons, as well as the supply chain behind Tesco’s card selection that raises £300,000 for the British Heart Foundation, Cancer Research UK and Diabetes UK.
Tesco bosses announced they were pulling the range of cards from sale in the wake of the scandal.
A Tesco spokesman said: ‘We abhor the use of prison labour and would never allow it in our supply chain.
‘We were shocked by these allegations and immediately suspended the factory where these cards are produced and launched an investigation. We have also withdrawn these cards from sale while we investigate.
We have a comprehensive auditing system in place and this supplier was independently audited as recently as last month and no evidence was found to suggest they had broken our rule banning the use of prison labour.
‘If a supplier breaches these rules, we will immediately and permanently de-list them.’
The heartbreaking note found by Florence said: ‘We are foreign prisoners in Shanghai Qingpu prison China. Forced to work against our will. Please help us and notify human rights organisations’.