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China jails milk scandal activist

Last Updated: Wednesday, November 10, 2010 - 18:20

Beijing: An activist who campaigned for compensation for victims of a massive 2008 tainted milk scandal was sentenced to two and a half years in jail on Wednesday, his lawyer said.

Zhao Lianhai, whose own child was one of 300,000 who became sick in the food scare that left at least six babies dead, was convicted by a Beijing court on charges of stirring up public disturbances, attorney Peng Jian said.

"We will appeal," Peng said.

Upon hearing the verdict, Zhao angrily tried to tear off his prison clothing, denounced the court and shouted out that he was innocent, the China Human Rights Defenders activist group said in a statement.

The group said he also planned to launch a hunger strike.

At least six children died after consuming milk powder laced with the industrial chemical melamine, which was added to make products appear higher in protein.

Zhao was arrested last December after he rallied other victims in the scandal to protest and demand compensation. His trial opened in March but no ruling had been issued until Wednesday.

The court in Beijing`s Daxing district refused comment when contacted.

The scandal led to huge recalls worldwide and spotlighted China`s persistent product-quality problems. The issue re-emerged earlier this year when tainted milk powder reappeared on the market.

Zhao campaigned relentlessly on behalf of victims of the scandal, and also ran a website providing information to the families after their babies suffered from melamine-induced kidney stones and urinary tract infections.

Rights group Amnesty International swiftly condemned the ruling.

"We are appalled that authorities have imprisoned a man the Chinese public rightly view as a protector of children, not a criminal," Catherine Baber, the group`s Asia-Pacific deputy director, said in a statement.

A total of 21 people were convicted for their roles in the scandal, and two were executed.

China`s government insists that the country is ruled by law and that citizens enjoy the right to pursue compensation for alleged wrongs in court.

However, people who speak out on sensitive cases are often themselves charged with crimes in what human rights groups say are blatant attempts by the government to silence them.

The milk scandal had worried authorities for its potential to stir social unrest and anger at the government for failing to protect its citizens.

Bureau Report

First Published: Wednesday, November 10, 2010 - 18:20

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