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China court convicts tainted milk scandal activist

The Daxing District People's Court of China on Wednesday convicted Zhao Lianhai for disturbing the social order during the tainted-milk scandal, sentencing him to two-and-a-half years in prison. In 2008, melamine-tainted milk from China [JURIST news archive] was blamed for the deaths of six infants, and the Chinese government promised that all tainted product would be seized and destroyed. Zhao organized a website, "Kidney Stone Babies," and established a support group, furnishing information and resources to parents whose children were sickened or killed by melamine-tainted milk. Zhao's own four-year-old son became sick after consuming milk containing melamine, which is used in plastics and fertilizer production. Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] condemned the sentence after previously expressing concern [press releases] that Zhao's detention put him "at risk" for torture. AI Deputy Director for the Asia-Pacific Catherine Baber said:

We are appalled that the authorities have imprisoned a man the Chinese public rightly view as a protector of children, not a criminal. Zhao Lianhai should never have been arrested for organizing a self-help group and exercising his legal rights to seek compensation from a commercial firm.
In 2009, as compensation claims began going to court, Beijing police issued a formal arrest warrant and charged [JURIST report] Zhao with picking quarrels and provoking trouble. According to AI, authorities denied Zhao access to a lawyer and visitation rights with his family during his detention.

The problem of tainted Chinese milk is not subsiding, despite Chinese government promises to the contrary. In September, police in China's Shanxi province arrested seven individuals [JURIST report], including the executive of a dairy company, after that company's powdered milk was found to contain melamine. In July, Chinese authorities discovered 64 tons of raw dairy materials [Xinhua report] contaminated with melamine in Qinghai province. In February, Chinese police arrested three individuals [JURIST report] for their roles in the 2008 tainted milk scandal. Two other individuals were executed [JURIST report] in November 2009 after being convicted of endangering public safety and selling toxic food. Chinese courts began hearing [JURIST report] tainted milk suits in 2009, after families began filing individual claims. Also in 2009, a Chinese court declared Sanlu Group, the Chinese company that produced the melamine-tainted milk, bankrupt [JURIST report]. In 2008, China's Hebei Supreme Court ruled [JURIST report] out the possibility of initiating a class action lawsuit on behalf of the contaminated milk victims.

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