Beijing (AFP) Nov 23, 2010
A Chinese father jailed after campaigning for victims of a tainted milk scandal missed an appeal deadline but has applied for medical parole, state-run media said Tuesday.
Zhao Lianhai, whose child was one of 300,000 made ill in the 2008 scandal that killed at least six, was sentenced to two and a half years in prison earlier this month.
After the verdict, Zhao angrily stated his intention to appeal, according to his lawyers, but the deadline passed Monday.
The state-controlled Xinhua news agency said Tuesday that no appeal had been filed but added that Zhao had applied for medical parole.
His attorney Li Fangping told AFP he did not know whether Zhao had been barred from appealing, saying his defence team has been cut off from him since they received a note purportedly from Zhao, firing them.
"Whether or not an appeal has been submitted or he has applied for medical parole is just not clear to us right now. We have been trying to get in touch with him and the court but have not been able to," he said.
Zhao, 38, is being held in a Beijing detention centre after being convicted of "creating a disturbance" through his advocacy activities. Court and police officials declined comment to AFP on Tuesday.
Li said that lawyers received a note in Zhao's handwriting on Monday, sacking them.
"But under what circumstances it was written we don't know," Li said.
The China Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group, a Hong Kong-based organisation, said Monday it suspected the government pressured Zhao not to appeal, in violation of his rights.
"We are very concerned whether Zhao has been coerced and faced any torture in the detention centre," it said.
Zhao was sentenced as Chinese authorities carry out what rights groups have called a broad crackdown on dissent, following the October 8 announcement that the Nobel Peace Prize would be awarded to jailed dissident writer Liu Xiaobo.
China has lashed out at the Nobel Committee and attempted to suppress discussion of the award.
Li said it was not known whether Zhao's reported medical parole application would be approved, adding he was unaware Zhao suffered any health problem.
China's dairy industry was rocked in 2008 by revelations that the industrial chemical 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 last December after rallying victims's families 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.
A total of 21 people were convicted for their roles in the scandal, and two were executed.
Tian Wenhua, the former head of the now bankrupt Sanlu dairy company -- which was at the centre of the scandal -- was sentenced to life in prison.
State media said Monday that authorities in central China's Hubei province were searching for 50 packages of a corn-flavoured dairy drink found to have been laced with melamine.
The government had said after the 2008 scandal that it destroyed all tainted milk powder, but reports of melamine-laced products have regularly re-emerged.
The Hubei case showed that Chinese safety regulators were not up to their job, the state-run China Daily said in a strongly worded editorial.
"(Melamine's) re-emergence... challenges all previous claims and assurances of safety," it said.
"The authorities charged with ensuring that our food is safe to consume remain incompetent while we remain vulnerable."
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