Tainted-milk activist Zhao Lianhai officially arrested for 'making trouble'

Beijing police have formally arrested Zhao Lianhai, an activist representing parents whose children were made ill by contaminated milk on the mainland last year, his wife said.

Zhao, who founded the Kidney Stone Babies support group, was charged on Thursday with 'provoking quarrels and making trouble', more than a month after being detained by police, Li Xuemei said. The charge carries a maximum penalty of five years' imprisonment.

'We didn't worry too much [when he was first detained] but now that I've got the formal notification of his arrest, I am beginning to worry because we don't know what he has done to deserve that,' Li said.

Zhao was detained on November 13, two days ahead of US President Barack Obama's arrival. Many other activists were also detained at the time to stop them protesting during Obama's visit, so Zhao's family had expected him to be released within a few days. His lawyer, Liu Xiaoyuan, said he did not know what Zhao had done that would be regarded as criminal by the authorities.

Zhao, father of a five-year-old, has been harassed many times by authorities over activities he organised to support fellow parents of children made ill by formula milk contaminated with melamine, an industrial chemical added to milk to boost its nitrogen content and allow it to pass tests for protein levels.

On September 11 last year, state-owned dairy giant Sanlu recalled hundreds of tonnes of baby formula.

The tainted milk killed at least six babies and made ill nearly 300,000 others, who suffered painful kidney stones. It was one of China's worst food safety scandals.