A court in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong has retrospectively acquitted a father jailed for demanding compensation after his infant daughter was sickened by the 2008 melamine-tainted milk scandal.
Guo Li, a simultaneous interpreter, was handed a five-year sentence by a court in Guangdong's Chaozhou in 2010 for "extortion" linked to his campaign for compensation from Guangzhou-based infant formula maker Scient after his child became ill with kidney stones.
Guo made a brief statement immediately after the hearing: "After a simple hearing that lasted around 20 minutes, the court found that I am innocent. Everything I did was in the cause of justice, and none of my actions constituted a crime," he said.
Following his release, Guo then lodged an appeal with the Guangdong Provincial High Court, which found that the facts of the case were unclear, that there was insufficient evidence, that the court of first instance had breached due process on two occasions, and that the case was inconclusive.
The provincial court found insufficient evidence to prove that Guo had used threats to extort material gains from the company, according to the judgment.
Guo was recently notified by the same court that it will be issuing a verdict following a rearraignment, and had been advised that he would likely be acquitted.
"The day has come when the slate has been wiped clean," he told RFA.
"I would like to thank everybody for their concern for our cries for justice on behalf of my child," he said.
Guo now suffers ongoing mental and physical health problems he attributes to maltreatment, including poor food and dirty water in prison.
Guo's daughter was one of 300,000 made ill by infant formula milk laced with the industrial chemical melamine, which saw a total of 21 people convicted for their roles in the scandal, two of whom were executed.
The government said after the 2008 scandal that it had destroyed all tainted milk powder, but reports of melamine-laced products have occasionally re-emerged.
Guo has previously described three years of harsh treatment, including beatings and solitary confinement, during his prison sentence, as the authorities put pressure on him to "admit to his crimes."
Held in a cell measuring little more than one meter (3.3 feet) wide and deprived of adequate food and water, Guo was given moldy food and dirty ditch-water instead.
‘Shocking and immoral’
Fellow "kidney stone baby" relative Jiang Yalin, who has criticized Guo's jailing as a political case.
"We parents of the victims are very happy to see the Provincial High Court acquit [Guo]," Jiang said. "The main thing is that it sends the message that justice has been done."
"As for Guo Li, I am full of admiration for him, because of his five-year ordeal in jail and for the three years he spent pursuing this appeal ceaselessly," said Jiang, whose own daughter became ill from drinking tainted infant formula.
"The way they mistreated him in jail was shocking and immoral, and for him to have hung in there through all of that really shows what an amazing father he is," he said.
Campaigners say promises from then-premier Wen Jiabao that the government would foot the medical bills for all of the children affected by melamine-tainted milk haven't been kept.
Instead, Jiang said, the scandal has led major health insurance companies in China to start excluding kidney-related diseases from policies, owing to the huge medical bills racked up following the scandal.
"Now, most major illness cover has an exclusion for kidney conditions," she said. "If a lot of people were to develop kidney conditions [as a result], then the company would lose money."
At least four infants died from kidney stones, and many of those who got sick, like Jiang's daughter, have yet to return to full health owing to calcification.
But the authorities retaliated against the most vocal parent activists, including Zhao Lianhai, who launched an advocacy group Kidney Stone Babies after officials refused to meet with victims'
families, or to allocate compensation funds earmarked for the children.
In Hong Kong, local residents staged protests in 2015 after parallel traders began buying up imported infant formula powder in bulk for resale to worried parents across the internal border in mainland China.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.