Activist firm on hunger strike, lawyer says

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 13 November, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 13 November, 2010, 12:00am

Jailed food safety activist Zhao Lianhai is pressing on with an indefinite hunger strike, saying it is part of his fight for a better future for children, his lawyer said yesterday.

Zhao, a father who organised a support group for parents of children affected by the mainland's melamine-tainted milk, was jailed for 21/2 years for 'provoking quarrels and making trouble', 'inciting and gathering crowds to protest' and other charges by the Daxing District People's Court in Beijing on Wednesday.

The verdict said Zhao and others had 'chanted slogans and gathered illegally to stir trouble' and seriously disrupted social order.

Zhao, 38, started a hunger strike after the verdict was handed down. His lawyer, Peng Jian , visited him yesterday, becoming the first person allowed to do so since his conviction. Peng said Zhao had told him he would continue the hunger strike until he was released.

'He told me that what he is doing is for a better country because people in our generation should spare no efforts to fight for more benefits for the next generation,' Peng quoted Zhao as saying.

'He said he didn't want our next generation to suffer too much ... and he believed his wife would understand that, while, some day in the future, his children would also realise why their father took such action.'

In the one-hour meeting, Peng said Zhao had asked him to file an appeal for him. A written appeal would be submitted to the district court on Thursday, he said.

Peng said before his meeting with Zhao that Zhao's wife, Li Xuemei , his 77-year-old mother, Pan Xiuying , and even the director and doctors at his detention centre all wanted him to persuade Zhao to give up the hunger strike.

'But I failed to meet their requirements,' Peng said.

'However, one thing that comforts both me and Zhao's family is he hasn't been mistreated in the past year because the staff at the detention centre, whether at the grass roots or the director, have all taken care of him.'

Zhao's five-year-old son, Zhao Pengrui , was a victim of the milk scandal. A test two years ago confirmed the boy had kidney stones, which pushed Zhao to found the online support group Kidney Stone Babies to organise other victims' parents to fight for justice for their babies.

That activism was used as evidence against him, according to the verdict issued by the district court.

Zhao's case has sparked outrage among supporters on the mainland and in Hong Kong.

A commentary released yesterday by the Qilu Evening News, a newspaper run by the Shandong provincial government, questioned whether Zhao's sentence was too harsh.

In Hong Kong, Lew Mon-hung, a member of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, bought full-page advertisements in several of the city's newspapers yesterday calling for Zhao's immediate release.