Tainted Milk Scandal Shows Danger of Seeking Justice in China

November 22, 2010 11:41 pm Last Updated: November 29, 2010 2:16 am

According to a joke, a tourist accidentally fell into a construction pit. He became enraged and told the tourist guide, “In our country, a red flag would have been put up wherever it's dangerous, but yours doesn’t.” The tourist guide smiled and replied, “When you entered customs, didn’t you see a giant red flag fluttering in the wind, clearly giving you a five-star index warning?”

Unfortunately, in China today this is more of a daily reality than a joke.

Zhao Lianhai, the parent of a melamine-tainted milk powder victim and a core organizer of affected families nationwide was sentenced to two and half years in prison at the Beijing Daxing District Court on Wednesday, Nov. 10, 2010, on charges of “provoking an incident.” Attorney Peng Jian said, “‘Provoking an incident’ refers to intentionally starting a quarrel for no reason.” These charges are loosely defined and therefore can be applied to anything, and in pre-communist China were considered “unwarranted or groundless” charges.

Zhao’s attorney further stated that there is no evidence that Zhao’s actions resulted in the adverse consequence of seriously damaging social order. He asserted that Zhao’s actions should never have been subjected to criminal investigation and prosecution.

Upon hearing the verdict, an emotional Zhao threw his prison uniform at the judge shouting, “I object. I am innocent!” and declared a hunger strike. His family cried out and said they would appeal. His lawyers said it was an unfair sentence. Outside the court many supporters, including human rights activists and parents of babies with kidney stones rebutted the court as being “shameless.”

From Victim to Advocate

Zhao’s young son was found to have a 2 mm stone in his left kidney in 2008. Zhao founded a website to investigate and provide information about contaminated Chinese dairy products, and launched the “Kidney Stone Baby Family Alliance” calling on parents suffering the same plight to collectively litigate.

However, Zhao was taken into police custody on Nov. 13, 2009 and officially arrested on Dec. 17. His family has been living on his mother’s meager pension. His 6-year-old son often suffers from abdominal pain and weighs only less than 33 lbs.

His lawyers, Li Fangping and Peng Jian, expressed anger over the verdict. Li said it was unfair and had no factual or legal basis. Xiang Qingyu, the only member of parents of the victims’ group that was allowed to enter the court said the judge did not allow Zhao’s attorneys to speak and lawyer Peng wept in frustration during the court proceedings.

According to Zhao’s lawyer Li, one of the allegations against Zhao listed in the verdict was that he once accepted an informal roadside media interview, that he protested in front of the Shijiazhuang Intermediate People’s Court as well as the Sanlu Group in Hebei Province, holding a piece of A4-sized paper and yelling slogans.

The other allegation was that parents of babies with kidney stones held a memorial gathering to mark the one-year anniversary of the tainted-milk scandal. Li said given the frustrating and traumatic circumstances, all these activities are perfectly normal and should not be regarded as crimes. Li also stated that Mr. Zhao did not create any social disorder.

A post on the Internet said that after the tragedy of potentially millions of children being made ill by contaminated milk powder, instead of punishing the culprit, authorities imprisoned the person who dared to speak up for innocent victims, the children, and that there is no government in the world more shameless than this.

Food-related Scandals Silenced

At the same time that Zhao was being jailed on groundless charges, the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine of the People's Republic of China “proudly” announced that “China’s qualification rate for food is over 90 percent.”

With so many baby food related “incidents” surfacing and publically exposed, one wonders how China can dare claim to have such high food standards.

Before the high-profile milk powder which caused baby sexual precocity incident was silenced, a four-month-old baby boy in Fuzhou, Jiangxi Province was found to have developed breasts that could lactate and had grown light pubic hair, after drinking “Mingyi” brand milk powder for two weeks. Doctors confirmed it was sexual precocity.

Deng Haihua, spokesperson for the Chinese Ministry of Health, however, said the diagnosis for sexual precocity in children, which includes pseudo-precocious puberty and precocious puberty, should follow strict, scientific clinical diagnostic criteria.

In an attempt to stifle parental concerns Chinese experts claimed that babies from newborn to one year old have a clinical “small period of adolescence.” In other words, they suggest these manifestations are a pseudo-precocious puberty and there is nothing to worry about.

Message in the Flag

After so many food safety incidents, officials are rarely punished or suffer real consequences. The country’s watchdog for safety and health overlooks and routinely coddles and colludes with unscrupulous manufacturers. The experts protect manufacturers whenever there is obvious foul play, whereas the only avenue for public appeal, the court, imprisons a victim’s parent for fighting for his rights and those of other innocents. There are indeed pitfalls everywhere in this country.

Perhaps we should pay more attention to the joke: The five stars emblazoned on the regime’s red flag should indeed serve as a warning to all, a five-star danger index, and if one is not careful, anyone can be easily incriminated on groundless charges.

Read the original Chinese article.