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China milk activist 'force-fed on hunger strike'

by Staff Writers
Hong Kong (AFP) April 7, 2011
A Chinese father who was jailed after campaigning for victims of a tainted milk scandal said he was force-fed China-made milk powder while on hunger strike, a report said Thursday.

Zhao Lianhai, whose child was one of 300,000 made ill by milk tainted with the industrial chemical melamine in 2008, was sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison last November but freed a month later on medical parole.

Speaking out for the first time since his release, Zhao said he was force fed through the nose with China-produced milk while on hunger strike to protest against his sentence.

"They used mainland-produced milk powder during the first force feeding. I threw up for half an hour after I returned to my cell," the 38-year-old activist told the South China Morning Post.

Zhao said the authorities approached him on the sixth day of his hunger strike in efforts to persuade him to eat in return for early release on medical parole.

"I thought I should grab this victory -- being released in 12 days," he told the newspaper, adding "finally when everything was agreed, they asked me to give up my appeal and confess".

Zhao was released in December and posted a statement on his blog saying he regretted his actions, but supporters said his words may have been forced.

His interview with the Hong Kong-based newspaper, which was done on March 11, was published after news emerged that he was taken in by the police on Wednesday for calling for the release of leading artist Ai Weiwei.

In an emotional 20-minute video posted this week on YouTube, Zhao, his son sitting on his lap, called on authorities to free detained government critics and institute open and fair government.

"What I can do is make my voice heard and call on authorities to quickly release Ai Weiwei and all of these other good people who were taken away recently; all of these people who have a sense of responsibility toward their country and society," he said.

Zhao gave the interview with the Post in the event that he was taken into police custody again.

However he wrote on his Twitter account near midnight Wednesday that he had been released after he talked to four officials regarding Ai's case.

Zhao and his wife could not be reached for further comment by AFP Thursday.

China's dairy industry was rocked in 2008 by revelations that melamine was added to powdered milk to make it appear higher in protein, sickening babies and causing worldwide recalls of Chinese dairy goods.

Zhao was arrested in December 2009 after rallying the relatives of the victims to protest and demand compensation.

He also ran a website providing information to the families whose babies suffered from melamine-induced kidney stones and urinary tract infections.

Chinese authorities said at least six babies died and another 300,000 were sickened.

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