Florence Widdicombe, 6, reportedly found the message in a card purchased from Tesco, a British grocery store. Widdicombe planned to use the card to write messages to her friends, the Sunday Times reported.
However, instead of a blank space inside the card, she found a chilling message, allegedly from inmates at Shanghai’s Qingpu prison.
“We are foreign prisoners in Shanghai Qingpu prison China. Forced to work against our will,” the card’s message read. “Please help us and notify human rights organization.”
It went on to urge the finder to contact Peter Humphrey, a former journalist in the U.K. and a corporate fraud investigator who was imprisoned at the same jail from 2014 to 2015.
The purple card features a kitten wearing a Santa Claus hat, along with the text: “When you wish upon a star.”
Florence’s dad, Ben Widdicombe, said they “thought it was a prank,” the Associated Press reports.
“On reflection, we realized it was actually potentially quite a serious thing,” Ben said. “So I felt very shocked but also a responsibility to pass it on to Peter Humphrey as the author asked me to do.
“It hits home there are injustices in the world and difficult situations that we know about and read about each and every day.”
It’s a tough yet poignant message to learn during the holidays, Ben said, remembering how he explained the findings to his young daughter.
“We explained that the person who wrote it was a prisoner in China and that the person felt the prison guards were being mean, making them do work, they felt really sad,” he said.
In a press briefing on Monday, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang 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.”
While Shuang dismissed the accusations as a “farce,” Humphrey has said otherwise.
“I never had any possible way to fabricate anything at all in this incident and this story,” he told Reuters.
“This message from prisoners in China came in a Christmas card purchased by a family who I’ve never met, never known until that moment in time.”
Tesco has said it was “shocked” by the report, adding that it would “never allow prison labour in our supply chain.”
According to the BBC, the company plans to delist the card supplier, Zhejiang Yunguang Printing, if it’s found to have used prison labour.
— With files from Associated PressFollow @meaghanwray
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