Amnesty International (AI) has lost track of Chinese food safety advocate Zhao Lianhai.
AI’s Alex Edwards told Food Safety News the last solid information about Zhao, 40, was in January 2011, more than a year ago.
Whether Zhao has “gone missing” as some media outlets have reported, is just lying low or is under house arrest isn’t known for certain.
In 2008, powdered milk tainted with the chemical melamine eventually killed six children and sickened at least 300,000 others in China. The tragedy put Zhao in the spotlight — he was both an official for China’s Food Quality and Safety Authority and the parent of an injured infant.
Zhao began speaking out to media and through a website helped organize other parents whose children had been poisoned. The most seriously injured infants suffered from kidney stones, raising questions of compensation for their health problems.
Zhao was arrested in Beijing on Nov. 13, 2009. Amnesty International says he was convicted on Nov. 10, 2010 by Daxing District People’s Court in Beijing for “provoking an incident” (Criminal Law article 293). He was sentenced to two and half years in prison.
His lawyers visited the Daxing Detention Center on Nov. 12, 2010 and found Zhao involved in a hunger strike. Zhao’s lawyers were told not to appeal and they were prevented from another visit to the detention center.
IA says the official Xinhua News Agency in Hong Kong reported on Nov. 23, 2010 that Zhao accepted the court verdict and would not be filing any appeals. The news agency said Zhao had filed an application for medical parole and it was being processed.
Through his lawyers, the court had urged Zhao to maintain a low profile and keep himself and his family away from the media.
Based on information from Zhao’s former lawyers, AI confirmed the food safety activist was released on medical parole on Dec. 28, 2010.
On Dec. 31, 2010, Zhao told the lawyers he had been home to see his family and was then sent to a Beijing hospital for medical treatment. IA said it was not clear what kind of treatment was involved or whether he was still being treated.
The report was consistent with the Dec. 28, 2010 medical parole release date.
Zhao is believed to be under house arrest with armed guards outside his door. He put a 20 minute video on the Internet last April, calling for the release of Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, who was jailed for three months. Speaking out could have been a violation of his medical parole and resulted in a return to jail for Zhao, China experts say.
Zhao is married with two children.
The melamine scandal was a great embarrassment for China’s government.
Zhang Yujun, who produced 776 tons of melamine and sold it as “protein powder,” and Geng Jinping, who bought it for inclusion in milk, both got death sentences for their roles in the incident.