Milk activist tells of force-feeding on hunger strike

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 07 April, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 07 April, 2011, 12:00am


Melamine-tainted-milk activist Zhao Lianhai has spoken for the first time of his ordeal in jail and the circumstances of his release.

In an interview with the South China Morning Post he said he had been force-fed while on hunger strike.

Yesterday, in a continuing crackdown on activists, Zhao was taken away by police from his home in Beijing, his sister said, after he broke his silence on Tuesday to call for the release of artist-activist Ai Weiwei. He used his Twitter social networking account to send a message shortly before midnight that he had returned home, having discussed Ai's case with officials.

'We have been talking about Ai's case until just now and no consensus has been reached,' he tweeted.

Zhao quoted an unnamed senior official as saying the authorities had not reached a final decision about Ai's case. Shortly after his tweet, Xinhua announced the artist was being investigated for economic crimes.

In the interview, Zhao said he was force-fed through the nose with mainland-produced milk - a painful reminder of how his five-year-old son and thousands of children developed kidney stones after drinking melamine-laced milk formula. Such milk made 300,000 children ill and killed six. Melamine was added to milk to boost its protein content. His son still suffers from kidney stones.

Zhao gave the interview on March 11 in the event he was taken into police custody again. He gave the Post permission to publish the interview yesterday morning, after he tweeted and spoke to Radio Free Asia about Ai, who disappeared into police custody on Sunday morning.

In the interview, Zhao revealed the conditions of his medical parole, including not doing anything to 'undermine stability' or talking to the media. The 38-year-old activist was sentenced to 21/2 years in jail for 'provoking quarrels and making trouble' and paroled in December amid mounting pressure from Hong Kong politicians and the public.

Zhao revealed he was kept in an empty ward in Anzhen Hospital for 18 months and was only allowed to go home after he lost his temper.

He also recounted the psychological and physical ordeal he went through when he was nose-fed with a solution of mainland powdered milk by medical staff in a Daxing district detention centre on November 14. Zhao was on a 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.'

Zhao threatened to resist the nose-feeding unless the detention centre used imported milk powder or rice soup. For two days he was nose-fed with imported baby formula.

He said the authorities approached him on the sixth day of his hunger strike for a deal to get him eating. The deal was appealing - he only had to stay in detention for two more days and he would be given medical parole in 10 days. 'I thought I should grab this victory - being released in 12 days - and I had no idea about the widespread support from Hong Kong media and NPC deputies.' Local NPC deputies had appealed for leniency for Zhao.

'Finally when everything was agreed, they asked me to give up my appeal and confess.'

Zhao said he felt he had been tricked after state media used a written note from him to his lawyer confessing his guilt to justify his sentence. He tweeted yesterday that if he was jailed again, he would go on hunger strike and was prepared to die.