No Verdict For Milk Activist

A Chinese activist detained for supporting children sickened by milk formula awaits his sentence.

zhaolianhai_crop-305.jpg Zhao Lianhai, in an undated photo.
Photo sent by Home for the Kidney Stone Babies

HONG KONG—A Chinese activist who sought compensation for children who fell ill or died during a tainted milk scandal in 2008 is still in a Beijing detention center awaiting a verdict, seven months after his trial took place.

Zhao Lianhai, whose child was one of 300,000 made ill by infant formula milk laced with the industrial chemical melamine, went on trial behind closed doors in a Beijing court on March 30, accused of "provoking social disorder."

Zhao's lawyer Li Fangping visited him in Beijing's Daxing district detention center Nov. 4 for a brief interview lasting no more than 30 minutes.

"He was very keen to see me," Li said. "He feels that the charges were trumped up by the authorities, [and is concerned] that now things have been delayed for almost a year without a verdict."

"He said he is anxiously waiting, and that it is already very hard to bear."

Li said Zhao has been refused permission to see his wife and child during his detention.

"To be treated like this is really a form of torment for him and his family," he added.

Zhao's wife, Li Xuemei, said she had recently gone to the Beijing Daxing District People's Court with a group of supporters to inquire after her husband's case.

"The judge received us," Li Xuemei said.

"He said that he had received the letter from the lawyer, and that he would be making a report to his superiors very soon."

Activists show support

Henan-based activist Liu Shasha, who accompanied Li Xuemei to see the judge, said they had been accompanied by eight or nine fellow activists, some of whom had initially become acquainted with Zhao's group online.

"There were netizens, and also parents of children who developed kidney stones, lawyers, and Zhou Li, a citizen reporter," Liu said.

"An official from the Daxing court came to meet with us. He said that this was an important and complicated case that had already been postponed for three months, and reports had been sent to higher authorities, who were looking into it."

Blogger Zhou Li said Zhao hadn't just been taking action on behalf of his own child, but on behalf of all children and parents who had been affected by the melamine-tainted milk scandal.

"It wasn't just a question of a production problem on the part of the manufacturer," she said. "The way in which the government regulates food and medicine safety was also implicated."

Protecting the children

Jiang Yalin, a fellow activist and head of the civic group Kidney Stone Babies, said Zhao's family has suffered hugely since his detention.

"Ever since Zhao Lianhai was deprived of his freedom, his family has lost its source of income," she said.

"We carried out a fund-raising activity on behalf of Zhao Lianhai's family among all the other affected parents and other charitable people."

She said Zhaos innocent.

"There is no guilt in working to protect the legitimate rights and interests of all these children," Jiang said.

"We will continue to stand by our principles."

Zhao is accused of holding "illegal meetings and shouting slogans" leading to social disturbance, and could face a jail term of up to five years.

Authorities say almost all of the 25,100 tons of defective milk powder seized in the 2008 toxic baby food probe have now been incinerated and buried.

The announcement came after melamine was found in further dairy products in several Chinese provinces last year.

Three executives of the Shanghai Panda Dairy Company were jailed for terms of three to five years in March for their roles in the production and sale of melamine-tainted dairy products last year.

And in November 2009, authorities in the northern city of Shijiazhuang executed two people for their role in the scandal, which killed at least six children and sickened hundreds of thousands.

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

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