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Monday was the last day for Chinese activist Zhao Lianhai to appeal his two-and-a-half-year prison sentence. A Beijing court had convicted him of, quote, "inciting social disorder" after he brought together victims of China's tainted milk scandal.
But on Monday when Zhao's lawyers, Li Fangping and Peng Jian, went to the prison to help him appeal—they were turned away. Authorities handed them a piece of paper from Zhao saying he didn't want to meet with them or receive their help.
The lawyers say they're unable to tell whether Zhao wrote the note of his own accord, or whether he was coerced.
[Li Fangping, Zhao Lianhai's Defense Lawyer]:
"In today's meeting, when I saw the piece of paper I was absolutely astonished. In all the repression that we lawyers see in our profession, I have never seen anything like this Zhao Lianhai case—two messages on pieces of paper that don't allow the lawyers to meet with the client."
The note came as a shock to the lawyers in part because after Zhao was sentenced on November 10, his wife told the group Human Rights in China that Zhao angrily refused to accept the ruling.
The note also comes as Zhao's lawyers have been under intense pressure from the Chinese regime for taking Zhao's case.
[Li Fengping, Defense Lawyer]:
"We can only express that we have received huge pressure. Lawyer Peng Jian disappeared for two days, and the police are following me. In this Zhao Lianhai case, I believe everything is in violation of China's legal system."
Zhao was first arrested last December after organizing families whose kids were sickened by milk tainted with the chemical melamine.
Amnesty International has condemned the Chinese regime for convicting Zhao, calling him, quote, "a man the Chinese public rightly view as a protector of children, not a criminal."