Thu, Dec 30, 2010 - Page 5 News List

China milk activist free, quiet

SUDDENLY SILENT:Zhao Lianhai last month angrily denounced his conviction and said he would appeal. Now he doesn’t want to talk about the issue at all anymore

AFP, BEIJING

A Chinese father jailed after campaigning for victims of a huge tainted milk scandal has said he was freed on medical parole and regretted his actions, but supporters say his words may have been forced.

A statement posted on Zhao Lianhai’s (趙連海) blog, apparently written by the 38-year-old himself, said he was being treated in hospital and did not want to have contact with anyone anymore.

Zhao — whose child was one of 300,000 made ill by milk tainted with the industrial chemical melamine in 2008, during a scandal that saw at least six babies die — was sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison last month.

At the time, he angrily denounced his conviction on charges of “creating a disturbance” through his advocacy activities and stated his intention to appeal, but his statement did not seem to match his previous indignation.

“I acknowledge the criminal penalty given to me by judicial authorities and hope other people won’t talk much more about this issue,” said the statement on his blog, posted late on Tuesday.

“I support, acknowledge and thank the government, and express deep regret for my previous extreme opinions towards the government,” it said. “I hope my incident can quieten down as soon as possible. This will benefit the country and society, as well as my family.”

The mobile phones of both Zhao and his wife were switched off yesterday. Calls to Beijing police and court officials for confirmation of Zhao’s release were not answered.

Zhao’s lawyer Li Fangping (李方平) said he could not confirm whether his client had been released, as he too was unable to get in touch with him or his wife.

He has been cut off from Zhao since he received a note purportedly from the campaigner firing his defense team.

“Even if he wrote this [blog post], I think it’s a result of pressure. I think this statement represents an official position. I don’t think it’s his true opinion,” Li said.

“Within one month, the -situation has dramatically worsened. A normal person cannot make such a big adjustment in such a small timeframe,” he said. “His family faced huge pressure, even his lawyers faced pressure, so under these circumstances, for this to happen is really not normal.”

The Chinese Human Rights Defenders, an activist network based in Hong Kong, also suggested that Zhao had been pressured into conciliatory statements in exchange for his release.

“Zhao’s apparent release ... seems to confirm earlier suspicions that he had been pressured by officials into firing his lawyers and dropping his plans to appeal his conviction in exchange for this release,” it said.

Patrick Poon, executive director of the China Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group, agreed.

“We just feel like it’s only a kind of relief for his family, but we have nothing to celebrate in terms of the rule of law system in China,” Poon told Hong Kong broadcaster RTHK.

Wang Guangya (王光亞), a senior Chinese official stationed in Hong Kong, said on RTHK that Zhao’s case had been “properly resolved.”

China’s dairy industry was rocked in 2008 by revelations that melamine was added to powdered milk to make it appear higher in protein, sickening babies and causing worldwide recalls of Chinese dairy goods.

Zhao was arrested in December last year after rallying the relatives of the victims to protest and demand compensation.

He also ran a Web site providing information to the families whose babies suffered from melamine-induced kidney stones and urinary tract infections.

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