In a sentencing hearing that lasted merely 40 minutes, Zhao Lianhai (赵连海), a parent of a victim of melamine-tainted milk powder and a core organizer of affected families nationwide, was sentenced today to a two-and-a-half year prison term on conviction of the crime of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” (寻衅滋事罪). Zhao’s wife, Li Xuemei (李雪梅), who attended the trial in the Beijing Municipal Daxing District People’s Court (北京市大兴区法院), told Human Rights in China (HRIC) that when the judge announced the sentence, Zhao said angrily: “I will not accept this ruling – I would rather die in prison. I will go on an indefinite hunger strike.” According to Li, Zhao took off his prison uniform and threw it, as well as the card that said “Defendant,” onto the ground.
In 2008, after his son became sick from tainted milk powder, Zhao organized a “Milk Powder Group” on the Chinese social networking website QQ. He also launched the group’s website Jieshi Baobao (结石宝宝; babies with kidney stones), in order to facilitate communications among fellow parents and seek compensation from the Chinese Dairy Association and the manufacturers of the tainted milk powder. In late 2008 and early 2009, lawyers representing dozens of families tried to file suit in several courts against the manufacturers of the tainted milk powder, but the suits were ignored by the courts, despite official reports that two cases were accepted. Zhao was detained in November 2009 and tried in March 2010. His case has attracted widespread domestic and international attention.
Lawyer Li Jinglin (李静林), who has helped tainted milk powder victims and their families but is not involved in Zhao’s case, told HRIC: “Zhao’s verdict is a perversion of justice. … It was the authorities’ actions that were wrong, not Zhao Lianhai’s.”
“Instead of encouraging and protecting a citizen’s invaluable role in addressing a serious social problem, the Chinese authorities have criminalized it. This runs counter to the government’s declared principle of promoting the people’s ‘right to live’ (生存权),” said Sharon Hom, Executive Director of HRIC. “The sentencing of Zhao Lianhai, along with the recent series of crackdowns on civil society activists and on channels for speech and expression, is an attempt to block peaceful and rational paths for resolving social problems. These actions may aggravate the problems and do not bode well for China’s future.”
For more information on Zhao Lianhai, see:
- Zhao Lianhai's verdict, November 10, 2010 (Chinese only)
- Zhao Lianhai's self-defense statement, March 2010 (Chinese only)
- Indictment against Zhao Lianhai, February 2, 2010 (Chinese only)
- Human Rights in China, “Organizer of Families of Tainted Milk Powder Victims Detained,” November 13, 2009
For more information on China’s crackdown on channels for speech and expression, see:
- “How the Chinese Authorities View the Internet: Three Narratives,” China Rights Forum, 2010, no. 2.
- State Secrets: China’s Legal Labyrinth (2007).