Two lawyers representing milk scandal hero Zhao Lianhai were fired yesterday, the deadline for lodging an appeal, as Beijing increased the pressure in a bid to silence the public clamour over his controversial jailing. Li Fangping and Peng Jian arrived at the Daxing district detention centre yesterday morning in the hope of meeting Zhao. Instead, they were given a note purportedly written and signed by the activist. It read: 'I would like to terminate the relationship of entrusted defence with Peng Jian and Li Fangping.' It was dated last Wednesday and bore Zhao's fingerprint in red ink and signature. Zhao's wife, Li Xuemei, who has not seen her husband since he was sentenced, also told the lawyers that they would no longer represent him. Zhao, whose son was made ill by melamine-tainted milk, was jailed for two-and-a-half years on November 10 for 'provoking quarrels and making trouble' after he sought to help other victims' families seek justice. Li Fangping said the chances of filing the appeal were very small under such circumstances. 'I was really surprised to see the note as Zhao trusted us very much,' Peng said. 'As a friend of Zhao, there is something about this that doesn't make any sense.' Even if the note was genuine, Li Fangping said he was suspicious about the circumstances that led Zhao to write it. 'The biggest obstacle is we cannot meet him and we have no idea what has happened. It was a dramatic turnaround and I can't explain it.' Two heads of the detention centre told the lawyers that Zhao would decide himself about whether to lodge an appeal. Zhao had ended his hunger strike since Peng met him on November 12, they added. They also said Zhao wanted them to return a blank piece of paper he had signed before he was sentenced so that they could proceed with his appeal, Peng said. 'It meant that all the actions we have taken since last Wednesday are invalid and our involvement is over,' Peng said. While Peng was detained by police at home over the weekend, Xu Zhiyong, a rights lawyer, found and mailed an appeal document with Zhao's signature to the court. But yesterday's turnaround meant the document was no longer valid, the lawyers said. When the lawyers went to Li Xuemei's home they were told they were no longer needed. Li Fangping said he believed Li Xuemei was forced to end their representation because she was smiling bitterly when they met her. About 10 policemen and guards were at the entrance to the complex where she lives. Xu said he believed the note from Zhao was meant to mitigate pressure from Hong Kong. The authorities were also eager to end the media attention by removing the lawyers, who have been speaking to reporters since the sentencing, Zhao's supporters said. The authorities have faced mounting pressure - especially after the case created a wave of interest in Hong Kong, with 28 local deputies to the National People's Congress issuing a joint statement calling for Zhao's release last week. Hong Kong lawmakers from across the political spectrum also backed Zhao. Xinhua's Hong Kong branch issued a statement on Sunday defending the court ruling on the grounds that Zhao continued his activism after his son recovered. Hao Jinsong, a legal scholar, said the authorities had underestimated the support from Hong Hong. 'They didn't expect Zhao's case to be discussed and trigger actions from Hong Kong and so would like it to disappear from public attention,' Hao said. Hong Kong NPC deputy Fanny Law Fan Chiu-fun, who initiated the signature petition last week, said she hoped the courts could review the jail sentence from a humane perspective. 'We believe the court's judgment was backed with reasons,' she said. 'But we hope it can review the case and impose a more lenient sentence.' Another deputy, Choy So-yuk, refused to respond to Xinhua's statement, saying she would follow the case in a low-profile manner. Miriam Lau Kin-yee, another deputy, said she would take no action before the result of any appeal. Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference delegate Lew Mon-hung remained a harsh critic and said he planned to submit a petition to President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao today. 'This is the darkest page of China's judicial system,' he said.