A court in the Chinese capital has upheld the sentencing of the father of a child sickened by a tainted tuberculosis vaccine to five months in labor camp after he repeatedly campaigned for public acknowledgement of the problem.
The Beijing Intermediate People's Court upheld the sentence of five months' "re-education through labor" handed to parent activist Yang Yukui on Tuesday, during a brief closed-doors session with no trial, his wife said.
Yang was detained in Beijing's Western district on Aug. 15 on charges of "provoking disputes and causing trouble."
The couple's five-year-old son Yang Xinhao has been in and out of hospital ever since being given a bacille Calmette-Guerin (BCG) vaccination shortly after birth, they say.
"There was no trial, just a sentence," said Yang's wife, Zhou Suying, who attended the sentencing. "The original sentence of five months was upheld [on appeal]."
Yang has rejected the sentence and denied the charges, she said.
"But he has been given no opportunity to speak," Zhou said. "He was taken away as soon as the sentence was passed. I could still hear him shouting in the corridor."
Yang's detention came during one of several trips to the Beijing Children's Hospital to try to persuade staff to address his son's problem after the child developed strange swellings across his body following a BCG vaccination for tuberculosis.
Yang Xinhao experienced widespread swelling of his lymph nodes following the jab, according to his parents.
The problem appears to be commonly reported in China.
According to an article published on the Jinshengwang health care website by the Puyang No. 5 People's Hospital in central Henan province, doctors at the hospital saw 17 cases of children who experienced similar problems to Yang Xinhao.
Between 2002 and 2005, the hospital treated 11 boys and eight girls aged between six months and 18 months who experienced lymph-node swellings following a BCG injection.
Zhou said the charges were an attempt to deflect attention from official responsibility for tainted vaccines.
"Once again, they accused [him] of threatening doctors, but nothing like that ever happened," she said. "The main reason is that Yang Yukui started petitioning on behalf of our child."
"This is an act of oppression on the part of the government," Zhou said. "The security guards outside the ministry of health surrounded Yang Yukui, beating him up until he sustained a fracture. Now they are saying we were the ones doing the beating."
Zhou said she had asked the court to view security camera footage from the alleged encounter, which she said would show security guards attacking the couple, to no avail.
"They said they had no power to do this," she said.
Yang's lawyer declined to comment on the case.
"You should speak to his family," the lawyer said. "It's not convenient for me to speak."
Avoiding the problem
Tainted and substandard vaccines are frequently the subject of complaints against health care providers and government departments by parents across China.
However, while officials sometimes offer compensation to the families of those affected, they refuse to admit publicly that there is a problem, sparking widespread anger and renewed activism.
A cutting-edge report in the China Economic Times revealed last year that improperly stored vaccines were administered by Shanxi health officials.
Routine vaccinations for encephalitis, hepatitis B, and rabies between 2006 and 2008 killed four children and sickened more than 70 others, the paper said.
Tainted vaccinations were still being used as late as March 2009, reports said.
The incident was one of a string of safety scandals to hit Chinese foods and medicines.
Last November, authorities in the northern province of Shanxi detained parent activist Yi Wenlong, who tried for several years to lodge a complaint against Shanxi health officials after his daughter was given a faulty encephalitis vaccine at her school in 2006.
Anger over sentence
Yi said in an interview on Tuesday that he fully supported Yang's attempts to expose the problem of tainted vaccines in China, and expressed anger at the sentence.
"For as long as there are vaccine victims and their parents, we won't fear oppression, because our children need medical treatment," Yi said.
"If you bring down one, there will be even more who stand up in their place," he said. "The harder you suppress them, the more popular anger there will be."
China's pharmaceutical industry is highly lucrative but poorly regulated, resulting in a string of fatalities blamed on counterfeit or shoddy medications in recent years.
China's former top drug regulator was executed in 2007 for taking millions of dollars in bribes to approve substandard medicines, including an antibiotic that killed at least 10 people.
Reported by Ding Xiao for RFA's Mandarin service, and by Fung Yat-yiu for the Cantonese service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.