A Chinese activist known for helping victims of the 2008 tainted milk scandal was sentenced to two and a half years in prison in Beijing on Wednesday. After his own son got sick, Zhao Lianhai set up a support group for other parents whose children had been poisoned by the toxic melamine-tainted milk.
On Wednesday a court in Beijing sentenced Zhao Lianhai to two and a half years in prison. He was charged with “disturbing social order,” for his involvement in running a support group and website for families affected by the 2008 toxic milk scandal.
According to Chinese state-run media, at least 6 children died and over 300-thousand were taken ill in 2008, when baby milk powder was contaminated with the industrial chemical melamine.
Zhao was a former employee of China's Food Quality and Safety Authority. His own child was taken ill by drinking the toxic milk. Zhao founded the website Kidney Stone Babies, so families could exchange information and get advice on suing the companies involved.
Zhao was arrested in November 2009, just as compensation claims were going to court. He’s been in custody ever since.
Rights organization Amnesty International say Chinese authorities denied him access to a lawyer for three months and didn’t allow him to meet his family. Amnesty was quick to condemn Wednesday’s sentence stating, “We are appalled that the authorities have imprisoned a man the Chinese public rightly view as a protector of children, not a criminal.”
Outside the court on Wednesday Zhao’s son held a sign reading “Father, come home,” while Zhao’s wife and other family members wept at the news of the sentence.
[Liu Xuemei, Zhao’s Wife]:
"It's too unfair, they've sentenced us to 2 years and 6 months, the penalty is too heavy, they've already extended the sentence, and he's already been detained for a year. What else do they want? There's no one to take care of our children."
Zhao’s lawyer Li Fanping expressed alarm at the length of Zhao's sentence.