More than two years after China was bungling its way through the melamine-contaminated milk scandal, the father of one of the victims is being sent to prison for organizing other parents and speaking out about the tragedy.
Zhao Lianhai, a Beijing father whose son was one of the estimated 300,000 victims of melamine in milk, was convicted of inciting social disorder and sentenced to 30 months in prison for his advocacy efforts.
Melamine-caused kidney damage killed at least six Chinese infants and required hospitalization of another 860 toddlers. Milk producers added the chemical to achieve a higher protein count.
The melamine scandal rocked China like few events since the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre. Zhoa was a minor character in the unfolding events. His 3-year old was diagnosed with kidney damage, and he set up an online forum for parents to share information.
While Zhoa emerged as a spokesman for parents, China’s Premier Wen Jiabao was seen visiting children in the hospital and comforting parents much as any Western politician might do. President Hu Jintao said, “Food safety is directly linked to the well-being of the broad masses…”
China’s focus as the scandal unfolded was on rounding up milk dealers and melamine suppliers who were tried and convicted for breaking laws that caused the widespread poisoning. Stiff sentences were handed out, with Zhang Yujun and Geng Jinping being executed in November 2009.
It was not until that same month that Zhao was arrested. He’s been jailed ever since.
“We are appalled that the authorities have imprisoned a man the Chinese public rightly view as a protector of children, not as a criminal,” said Amnesty International spokesman Catherine Baber.
State prosecutors reportedly argued that Zhao’s actions of organizing a meeting of parents with sick children in a restaurant, holding up a protest sign in front of a court and a factory, and giving media interviews were proof that he was inciting social disorder.
Some China observers say Zhao’s conviction has less to do with the events in 2008 than the current trend of government crackdown on any form of dissent.