A gang of 14 middle-aged women in northern China has been jailed for using strong-arm tactics to force people to move out of their homes to make way for property developments or to pay up their debts, according to a news website report.

The gang members were jailed for up to 11 years at a court in Sui county in Henan province, the news website Sohu.com reported. Some had met while dancing at a local public square.

The women, who were either unemployed or subsisted on low incomes, were hired by a property developer to harass and abuse residents who refused to relocate, according to the report.

They were also employed by small firms to help recover money from debtors.

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The women often shouted at, hit and injured people owing money to intimidate them, the article said.

A court convicted the women last month of 29 cases of provocation and organised crime offences over the past four years. Twelve had pleaded not guilty. They were sentenced to between two and 11 years in jail.

One woman jailed for five years was blind after suffering severe diabetes, the report said.

She was quoted as saying she felt happy when first asked to work as a debt collector as it gave her a sense of purpose.

She joined the gang four years ago after she met several women while dancing at a local square.

Another reason she joined was because of the free meals she was given while out on “operations” as she subsisted on a small government allowance.

The man who organised the gang, whose real name was not given in the report, was jailed for 11 years.

He also negotiated with the small firms hiring their services.

The illegal debt collecting service emerged because many small firms in the area had financial problems over the past few years due to fluctuations in the real estate market, according to the article.

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