Asia-Pacific

Chinese girls freed from basement chains

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Police in Wuhan, central China, have freed two teenage girls who had been kept chained in a basement for almost a year, Chinese media say.

The girls, aged 16 and 19, were rescued after a repairman found a note they had smuggled out in a broken television.

The suspected captor, 39-year-old Zeng Xiangbao, had been in custody for a week in an unrelated rape case.

It is unclear whether the girls, who were naked when found, had been sexually abused.

The pair were found shackled in an underground room of a two-storey house in the city in Hubei province, the Beijing News reported.

The 19-year-old, who was reported missing in July last year, lived only 200m away from the house where she had been confined.

The uncle of one victim said the pair, who had been surviving on pot noodles they had found in the room after their captor failed to return, would have starved to death had they not been found.

'Help'

The discovery was made after a repairman, after removing the cover of a TV to fix it, found the girls' note.

"Help! I have been held in an underground place for more than a year," the note read, along with a sketch of where they were being kept and the phone number of the 19-year-old's father.

A friend of the repairman called the father's number and then alerted the police.

Officers searched the area and eventually discovered the underground room, which had been disguised by boards and layers of soil.

Mr Zeng, the suspected captor who lived in the house with his 70-year-old mother, had been arrested a week earlier on a rape charge.

Divorced last year, Mr Zeng worked at a nearby kiln and was a quiet man, according to the South China Morning Post.

The girls had put notes in pot noodle and bread packaging on previous occasions in an attempt to summon help, but they had not been found.