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Report: Chinese Prisoners Turned to Gold Farmers

It’s not unusual for prisoners to be tasked with heavy-duty manual labor. However, it seems prisoners in China are being forced to do another type of work along with their day jobs. The Guardian this week carries the story of 54-year-old Liu Dali (not his real name), a prisoner who would break rocks and dig trenches in the coalmines of north-east China by day and, at night, build up credits in online games that prison guards would then trade for real money.

He is not the only prisoner being forced to play for the profit of the prison guards. Liu says he was one of 300 prisoners being forced to play for the guards:

"Prison bosses made more money forcing inmates to play games than they do forcing people to do manual labour," he told the Guardian newspaper. "There were 300 prisoners forced to play games. We worked 12-hour shifts in the camp. I heard them say they could earn 5,000-6,000rmb [between $616 and $924] a day. We didn't see any of the money. The computers were never turned off."

Gold farming, the practice of mining massive amounts of gold and then selling it on for hard cash, is an increasingly big problem in China and the country essentially banned it two years ago by making the practice of selling virtual goods for real money illegal. In 2009, WoW Insider reported that the gold farming industry was generating about $1 billion worldwide and as much of 85 percent of gold farmers were residing in China.

Liu says that despite the law banning the sale of virtual good for real money, prisoners are likely still being forced to play.

"Many prisons across the north-east of China also forced inmates to play games. It must still be happening."

Read the full report here.