Fears for Milk Activists

Chinese authorities manage the public reaction to one man's sentencing, but hold another in jail.
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Zhao Lianhai, in an undated photo.
Zhao Lianhai, in an undated photo.
Photo sent by Home for the Kidney Stone Babies

Chinese tainted-milk campaigner and father Zhao Lianhai has been incommunicado since his release from jail on medical parole in December, while friends fear for the health of fellow campaigner dad Guo Li, currently serving time in Guangdong.

Zhao, 38, whose child was one of 300,000 made ill by infant formula milk laced with the industrial chemical melamine, was sentenced to two-and-a-half years in jail by Beijing's Daxing District People's Court on Nov. 11 and released on "medical parole" at the end of December.

But calls to his and his wife's cell-phone numbers have yielded no reply since then, and sources close to the couple say police have rented apartments near their Beijing home to carry out round-the-clock surveillance.

A source close to Zhao said the activist, who released a statement apologizing for his activities shortly after his parole, had come close to starvation in prison during a hunger strike.

Zhao survived only because he was force-fed by prison staff, the source added.

A neighbor of the couple said police had rented all apartments on the same floor as the couple to carry out surveillance work.

Calls to their cell phones on Thursday signaled either that their phones were shut off or that there was "no such number."

Health failing

Meanwhile, relatives of fellow activist Guo Li said his health had been deteriorating since he was jailed last year by a court in the Guangdong city of Jieyang.

Guo, a simultaneous interpreter, was handed a five-year sentence by the Jieyang People's Intermediate Court after he launched a campaign for compensation from Guangzhou-based infant formula maker Scient after his child got kidney stones.

"Lawyer Zhang Yansheng and Guo Li's mother have gone down to the Jieyang to visit him," Guo's father said on Thursday.

"They have taken some things for him, although there are some things they weren't allowed to take," he said.

He said the authorities had been unwilling to allow Guo to have books in prison. "Especially books in English and German," Guo's father said. "They have taken some dictionaries."

Guo's mother, Xing Hong, said the activist's health had deteriorated during his time in jail.

"He isn't in good physical health right now," Xing said. "He is in reasonably good mental health."

She said she and lawyer Zhang had spoken to Guo for about an hour.

"The meals they serve in the canteen aren't nutritious, and they only serve carbohydrates with no vegetables."

"He is malnourished," she said. "We weren't able to leave him any money."

'Negative public opinion'

Activists said at the time of Zhao Lianhai's release that his "parole" was an apparent attempt to respond to a wave of negative public opinion surrounding the activist father's sentencing.

Zhao had earlier vowed to fight his conviction and go on a hunger strike before his release, and had already signed legal forms for an appeal.

But the activist fired his legal team abruptly in November, sparking speculation that the authorities would cut a deal with the parent activist, whose sentencing caused a public outcry.

Zhao was held in a Beijing detention center after being convicted of "creating a disturbance" through his advocacy activities.

Zhao's supporters say he had not been taking action just on behalf of his own child, but on behalf of all children and parents who had been affected by the melamine-tainted milk scandal.

Analysts said at the time that the sentence indicated authorities feared Zhao Lianhai could be a rallying point for opposition to the ruling Communist Party.

A total of 21 people were convicted for their roles in the scandal, and two were executed.

The government said after the 2008 scandal that it had destroyed all tainted milk powder, but reports of melamine-laced products have regularly re-emerged.

Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.





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