Sun, Jan 04, 2009 - Page 4 News List

Melamine parents freed

SILENCING DISSENT The parents of children sickened in the scandal were to hold a press conference on Friday, but were detained by police on Thursday night

AFP , BEIJING

Chinese police have released five parents of children sickened by melamine-tainted milk, a day after detaining them to prevent them from holding a press conference, their lawyer said yesterday.

The five were preparing to speak to the media to call for better compensation and treatment for sick children in China when they were detained on Thursday evening in Beijing.

“They were released on Friday evening,” lawyer Xu Zhiyong (許志永) said. “Their [the police’s] aim was to stop them from holding a press conference.”

Police in Beijing were unavailable for comment.

Zhao Lianhai (趙連海), one of the detained, said they had been treated well but accused the police of violating their rights.

“I refused the food they provided as they had violated my human rights,” he said.

China’s milk scandal came to light in September and has had nationwide repercussions with at least six children dying and nearly 300,000 of them suffering from kidney and urinary problems after they drank milk tainted with melamine.

The chemical, normally used to make plastic, was added to watered-down milk to make it appear higher in protein.

Zhao said that the group was unhappy with a compensation plan announced last week by the government, which ordered 22 dairy firms that sold tainted milk to pay US$160 million in compensation to victims’ families.

“We don’t agree with the amount of the compensation, and we don’t agree with the one-time nature of the compensation,” Zhao said by telephone.

He said victims’ families should have been consulted before the plan was announced.

Other demands included continued free medical treatment for those children still suffering and research into the long-term effects of melamine.

Despite the detentions, a hastily arranged briefing went ahead on a Beijing roadside on Friday, when other concerned parents called for urgent research into the long-term effects of the chemical.

Zhao said police had told the five they would be released on Friday morning, but when the time came they were kept locked up, and they were only released in the evening.

Another detained parent, Ma Hongbin (馬紅彬), refused to talk about his detention, but was willing to describe his daughter’s health condition.

He said his 18-month-old daughter had developed kidney stones after consuming tainted milk powder made by Sanlu, one of the Chinese dairy firms at the heart of the scandal.

“She fell ill on Sept. 1, and she had very large kidney stones, which have now been evacuated,” Ma said. “But her situation is still not good, and when the weather changes, you can see her face is a bit bloated. Her fallopian tube has also expanded.”

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