Man accused of keeping wife chained to shack in China arrested, 8 officials sacked

The husband was formally arrested on Feb 22 along with two other people accused of trafficking, authorities said. PHOTOS: SCREENGRABS FROM MANYA KOETSE/TWITTER

BEIJING (AFP) - The Chinese authorities said on Wednesday (Feb 23) they had arrested a man accused of keeping his wife chained in a shack and punished at least 17 local officials over a case that has sparked viral outrage.

The incident triggered intense debate on mental health and human trafficking in January after a blogger's video showed her with a chain and padlock around her neck in freezing weather in Jiangsu province.

The provincial authorities said the woman was found to have schizophrenia and had been sold several times, including once in 1998 for 5,000 yuan (S$1,100), after being taken from her village in south-western Yunnan province.

Officials said "special actions to comprehensively and thoroughly investigate and rectify the violation of rights" were being taken.

They added that the woman - known as Xiaohuamei, which means little plum blossom and is likely a nickname - is a mother of eight children and is receiving hospital treatment.

Officials in the area where she was found had initially denied allegations of any abduction and trafficking but higher-level investigations were launched after a public outcry.

Xiaohuamei is said to have disappeared after living for a few months with a man in Jiangsu who had bought her, and was soon taken in by a couple who operated a hotel, the probe found.

She was then sold again to two other people before being bought by her current husband's family.

The husband, surnamed Dong, was formally arrested on Tuesday along with two other people accused of trafficking, authorities said.

Investigations are ongoing against six others allegedly involved in trafficking her, while eight local officials have been dismissed from their posts and nine others handed various punishments.

The case continued to generate anger on Wednesday, with a related hashtag on China's Twitter-like Weibo platform attracting 580 million views shortly after the news of the punishments came.

"The credibility of our government has long been lost," one user said of the latest statement. "You haven't shown us evidence." Others called for a national crackdown on trafficking.

China's one-child policy - only relaxed in 2016 - has led to a shortage of women due to a traditional preference for boys.

The resulting gender imbalance is believed to have fuelled human trafficking, according to a United States congressional report.

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