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China lawyers allege political pressure after aiding parents of sick infants in milk scandal

[JURIST] Lawyers providing free legal advice to parents of children in China sickened by tainted milk products [BBC report] have been pressured by Chinese officials to stop providing legal services, according to one of the lawyers speaking to the Associated Press Tuesday. The group of at least 100 lawyers, who were told that the scandal has become a "political issue" and should be left to the government, has already helped the family of one sickened infant file a lawsuit [AP report] against Sanlu dairy farm, which has been at the heart of recalls. The Henan court has not yet decided whether it will hear the case, filed last week, which seeks $22,000 in compensatory damages for medical care the infant received for kidney stones after drinking milk produced by Sanlu. The lawyers have also been assisting other families with sickened infants in providing legal advice, but so far no other lawsuits have been filed following the recalls.
AP has more.

News of possible milk powder contamination by the chemical melamine first broke last month [Guardian report], following the death of an infant and reports that at least 50 other infants had fallen ill after consuming baby formula, leading to massive recalls [BBC News report] of both liquid milk products and milk powders. The death toll soon rose to four, and the number of sick infants in China [JURIST news archive] has since ballooned to at least 53,0000. The State Council of China [official website, in English] has ordered free medical care to be provided for sick infants whose symptoms arose after September 12, when word of contamination first broke and the first milk powder recalls were ordered. Parents of many of the children who became sick before that date and who are not covered have sought legal advice and discussed the possibility of more joint lawsuits. Last week, tests performed by China's General Administration of Quality Supervision [official website, in English] found that 12 percent of milk produced by at least 37 companies in China was tainted. So far, police have arrested 18 people [AP report] in connection with the scandal.

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