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While some of us get to spend our days taking selfies, slurping on Starbucks and shopping at designer stores, others are not quite so lucky.

In a crushing reminder of the disparities and injustice that exist in our world, a woman shopping at luxury New York department store Saks Fifth Avenue has discovered a note at the bottom of her bag written by a man imprisoned in a forced labour camp in China, pleading for help contacting his family and the United Nations.

BBC News reports that the note, written by Cameroonian Tohnain Emmanuel Njong, was originally found in 2012 by Australian Stephanie Wilson, who lives in New York’s West Harlem. She had purchased a pair of rain boots from the high-end store, and spotted the piece of paper at the bottom of her shopping bag when she was looking for her receipt.


“I’m presently serving a 3 years imprisonment sentence in Qingdao in Shandong Province of China since the 11th of May 2011 for an alleged charge of fraud,” the prisoner writes in his letter.

“I’ve been molested and tortured physically, morally, psychologically and spiritually for all this while without any given chance to contact my family and friends. We are ill-treated and forced to work like slaves for 13 hours every day producing these bags in bulk in the prison factory.”

Incredibly, after asking for help contacting the authorities the man then signs off with, “Thanks and sorry to bother you.”

Ms. Wilson took the note to the Laogai Research Foundation, a human rights non-governmental organisation which works to raise awareness of China’s labour camps, who attempted to trace the man using an email address that had been written on the back of the note.

The account, sadly, turned out to be inactive, but news site DNAinfo recently managed to track the man down using social networking sites, and discovered that he has now been released from the Chinese prison and has returned to Cameroon.

Presumed dead

“Maybe this bag could go somewhere and they find this letter and they can let my family know or anybody [know] that I am in prison,” Mr. Njong told DNAinfo he thought to himself as he wrote the note under his bed covers. “I’m just happy that someone heard my cry.”

Mr. Njong’s sentence was apparently reduced following his “good behaviour” at the prison, and he was then flown back to Cameroon to join his family, who for the duration of his absence had received no information about his circumstances and thought him to be dead.

An estimated 50 million people have been sent to Laogai, or “reform through labour”, camps in China in the last 50 years alone, many of whom are forced to work for long hours each day producing goods that are used or sold in the West. Inmates exist on a diet of simple bread and gruel, and reports of poor sanitation and physical abuse are common.

Source: BBC News, DNAinfo New York, The Telegraph
Feature image via Save The Bay