Doubts raised as activist's blog claims he is free

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 29 December, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 29 December, 2010, 12:00am

Is Zhao Lianhai free?

Speculation over the whereabouts of the mainland milk activist intensified yesterday after a statement appeared on his personal internet blog saying he was now on medical parole.

A Hong Kong deputy to the National People's Congress said he had heard unconfirmed news that Zhao had been released.

Zhou - father of a child affected by melamine-tainted milk and the organiser of a parents' group seeking redress for victims - was jailed last month for 21/2 years for 'provoking quarrels and making trouble'.

The sentencing of a man hailed a hero for his efforts on behalf of affected families sparked outrage internationally and in Hong Kong and led to protests outside his home, during which Hong Kong journalists were attacked.

The entry on Zhao's blog said he had admitted guilt, wanted to apologise to the central government for his 'radical remarks' and agreed with his sentence. But supporters said it did not sound like him and suspected it might have been penned by the authorities.

'I am now on medical parole and am undergoing treatment in hospital. I refuse contact with anybody and do not want anybody to disturb my family. I want to lead a normal life,' the entry read. 'I hope people who are concerned about me won't talk too much about my case. I hope my incident can be quietened down. This will be good for the country and society, as well as for my family.'

Luo Yonghao, founder of the blog service provider, said the entry was posted by someone with a password for Zhao's account.

Sichuan blogger Run Yunfei said Zhao had been using the account to post on the blog, titled 'Home for melamine-tainted milk victim babies'. But the wording of the latest statement was 'really problematic'.

Activist and friend Liu Shasha also said the statement did not sound like Zhao. He might have written the statement under pressure or the authorities might have used his name to post the statement.

NPC deputies, who wrote to the Supreme People's Court calling for Zhao's release, were told on Saturday that the activist could be freed as early as the following day.

One of them, Wong Kwok-kin, said he had heard from unofficial sources that Zhao had been released on Sunday. He made a formal inquiry yesterday to the central government's liaison office, which agreed to convey his questions to Beijing.

'Even if the government does not want the media to interview Zhao and his family, it should at least tell people whether he has been released,' Wong said.

Michael Tien Puk-sun, another signatory of the letter, said he was afraid it might backfire if they pushed too hard for information. 'Let's wait for one or two more days for a reply.'

Daxing detention centre, where Zhao was being held, refused to say anything.