Milk activist is taken away after protest at office

PUBLISHED : Friday, 27 May, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 27 May, 2011, 12:00am


Milk activist Zhao Lianhai was taken away by mainland authorities yesterday after trying to enter the headquarters of a dairy industry association in Beijing to ask about a compensation fund set up for the 300,000 victims of melamine-tainted milk powder in 2008.

In November Zhao, organiser of the Jieshibaobao (kidney stone kids) parents' support group, which has been fighting for children's rights following the food safety scandal, was jailed for 21/2 years after 'provoking quarrels and making trouble'.

That month, 28 Hong Kong deputies to the National People's Congress wrote an open letter calling for Zhao (pictured) to be set free. He was released on medical parole in January.

Although he was warned that he could be thrown back in jail if he continued to speak out, Zhao expressed support for dissident artist Ai Weiwei and lawyer Li Fangping when they were taken away by the authorities last month.

Yesterday, Zhao was taken away himself. A Twitter posting by his wife said there was still no news of his fate by late in the afternoon.

Xiang Qingyu, a father from Jiangsu province who went with Zhao to the headquarters of the China Dairy Industry Association, said: 'We just want to find out where the money is, and use the money to cure our children.'

Xiang's son suffers from stones in both kidneys after drinking tainted milk powder for a year.

Xiang said they were told in the morning they could not enter the building because they had not made an appointment. They then tried to call association chairman Song Kungang , but he did not answer his mobile phone. During lunch they decided to print 'missing person' notices asking about Song's whereabouts. Zhao was taken from the print shop by three men in plain clothes who said they were municipal police.

Xiang said the men dragged Zhao out of the shop and into a black car.

'They said they wanted to ask Zhao some questions, but did not show their IDs, or say where they were going to take him,' he said. 'Zhao told them he did not want to go with them.'

An association staff member said she knew nothing about Zhao and could not disclose contact details for the association's spokesman.

According to an online group founded by Zhao, the protest was spurred by an article in the Xinhua-affiliated magazine Oriental Outlook that said that three years after the melamine scandal, little was known about the 1.1 billion yuan (HK$1.32 billion) compensation fund established by the 22 implicated milk companies. The industry association and insurer PICC have said the operation of the fund is a 'state secret', the article said.