Two people in China have been given suspended death sentences for pushing a mentally ill man into a coal mine shaft and then posing as his family members to get compensation for his death, a court said Thursday. Two others received 15 years in prison.
It is not clear whether the four were among the nine people arrested late last year on suspicion of trafficking mentally ill people to be murdered in mines across China.
The cases are similar to the plot of the 2003 Chinese movie “Blind Shaft,” in which two coal miners plan a fellow worker’s murder and make it look like an accident in an attempt to extort money from the mine boss.
A court in the southwestern province of Yunnan said Thursday the sentences for intentional murder were handed down Wednesday. Suspended death sentences are usually commuted to life in prison.
The four — three men and a woman — were arrested in November after they approached the coal mine and demanded 290,000 yuan ($42,000), according to a statement from the intermediate court in the Hani and Yi autonomous prefecture.
The mine called the police instead.
The statement didn’t say how the four found the mentally ill victim, Cai Qianwen. It said they told Cai they would help him find a job and a wife.
China’s mining industry is the world’s deadliest, and owners face intense pressure to keep deadly accidents under wraps. Some have been accused of paying off journalists and relatives of dead miners in recent years to keep safety problems from coming to light.
Police in the neighbouring province of Sichuan announced in late December they had arrested nine people suspected of trafficking mentally ill people to be murdered in mines in nine other provinces across China in an effort to blackmail mine owners into paying compensation.
At the time, the official Xinhua News Agency reported that the murders took place over several years.
A deputy director of the propaganda department in Leibo county, where the nine arrests occurred, said there had been 17 such trafficking cases, but he didn’t say how many people were killed.