10/14/2008, 00.00
CHINA
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Courts blocking lawsuits in melamine-tainted milk scandal

Courts keep on hold or reject lawsuits claiming damages. Some lawyers are threatening class action suits. China’s justice system is geared to meet the needs of the Communist Party, not that of its ordinary citizens. In Shanghai a man on trial for murder becomes poster boy for the fight against the daily injustice inflicted by the system

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – China’s courts have thwarted attempts by victims to claim compensation for the damages suffered by their infant children poisoned by melamine-tainted milk. In Shanghai people have taken to the streets on behalf of a convicted multiple police killer. Increasingly in China’s “harmonious society” more and more people cannot stand Communist Party-styled justice.

The parents of Yi Kaixuan, a toddled who died at the age of six months from melamine-tainted Sanlu powdered milk, filed a lawsuit in court demanding 1.1 million yuan (US$ 146,000) as compensation. Their attorney Dong Junming however said it is not yet certain whether the court will admit the suit.

Powdered milk by Sanlu and other companies contained high levels of melamine, a toxic chemical substance that killed at least four infants, causing kidney stones in 54,000 children, many now in serious conditions.

Some legal actions against Sanlu were taken in Henan on 22 September and in Guangzhou on 8 October, but so far no court has admitted any lawsuit even though under the law they have to decided whether to hear a case or not within seven days from the application. Many parents are complaining that their lawsuits have been thrown out of court as inadmissible.

Last week Premier Wen Jiabao urged everyone to learn a “deep lesson" from the melamine-tainted scandal, and pledged tough penalties for anyone who broke the law. But for many experts the Communist Party is trying to find a “political” solution to the crisis to avoid handing out compensation for 54,000 children.

In view of the inaction by the legal system, some like attorney Na Jun in Lanzhou said “either the government will handle the compensation at the policy level, or we will have to consider class action.”

At the same time exasperation over court injustice has driven many ordinary citizens into the street to protest.

Frustration and resentment against the authorities blew up in Shanghai where the appeal trial against a death row inmate is underway. On 1 July Yang Jia went inside a police station and with a knife killed six policemen, injuring another three. Since then he has become a sort of popular “hero” after allegations surfaced on the Internet claiming that he was beaten for no apparent reason by police in 2006 and then arrested and beaten again in October 2007 for allegedly stealing a bicycle.

Now people are up in arms saying that Yang’s trial was rife with irregularities, that his original defence attorney was first “consulted” by district authorities in Zhabei (where the incident took place) and for the fact that serious doubts have been raised with regards to the psychiatric examination that found him fit to stand trial.

Yesterday hundreds of people protested in front of the courthouse, tapping into the anger generated by police violence and unfairness. Some protesters sported T-shirts with Yang’s face; others chanted “Long live Yang Jia” and “Yang Jia is a hero”.

In one incident outside the court police pushed to the ground a man who was waving a banner claiming supporters had donated 200,000 yuan to pay for Yang's defence, then took him away to the angry shouts of the crowd  (photo: police stopping a protester).

“We are just ordinary people concerned about Yang Jia's fate,” said Liang Yin, one of the protesters. “We want to know the truth but they were shutting off every access” to the courtroom.

In fact the trial is already underway behind closed door despite attempts by tens of people to attend the proceedings.

Huang Xuemin complained police beat her when she tried to enter the court premises.

“You see how police were treating us! You can imagine how badly Yang Jia must be treated,” she said.

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