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Ai Weiwei

Milk activist told 'be quiet or go back to jail'

PUBLISHED : Friday, 08 April, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 08 April, 2011, 12:00am

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Melamine-tainted-milk activist Zhao Lianhai , who was taken away by police on Wednesday night for questioning, said yesterday they threatened to throw him back in jail if he continued to speak out about the treatment of dissidents.

Meanwhile, as condemnation mounts over the detention of artist-activist Ai Weiwei , Beijing warned foreign countries they had 'no right to interfere'.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei told a news conference: 'Ai Weiwei is under investigation on suspicion of economic crimes. It has nothing to do with human rights or freedom of expression.' It was China's first official comment on Ai's case.

Zhao (pictured), who broke his public silence on Tuesday to comment on Ai's detention at the capital's airport as he was about to board a flight for Hong Kong, said he appealed for the artist's release when he was questioned by four Beijing police officers.

'I told them that if they are stepping up the crackdown [on dissidents], they can start with me,' he said. They responded by saying he would go back to prison if he 'continued to do what you are doing now'.

Zhao, 38, said if that happened he would go on hunger strike and was prepared to die. He said he tried to reason with the police, asking them to examine the tense situation between the authorities and the dissidents with a level-headed attitude.

'I repeatedly told them the situation would only get worse, or even spin out of control if they didn't change their attitude,' Zhao said.

'I also said: 'I know you're part of the [authoritarian] system and I understand your fear ... but I still hope there's some effort that can be made to alleviate the tension'. I was really hoping they would have a good think. I told them that would be good for their next generation as well.'

Zhao, the father of a child affected by melamine-tainted milk and the organiser of a parents' group seeking redress for 300,000 victims on the mainland, was jailed in November for 21/2 years for 'provoking quarrels and making trouble'.

He was released on medical parole in late December, but faces the prospect of being sent back to prison because one of his parole terms was not talking to the media.

The government crackdown on dissidents continued yesterday with the reported arrest of another prominent rights lawyer Ni Yulan and her husband Dong Jiqin .

Ni, 50, a campaigner against government-backed land grabs, was crippled by police during several days of questioning after being arrested in 2002. She and her husband were forcibly taken from their hotel in Beijing yesterday morning, according to the US-based news portal Boxun.com. Ni's cellphone was switched off yesterday.