11/24/2010, 00.00
CHINA
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Zhao, in prison for defending children, "renounces" appeal

Zhao Lianhai is an activist for the rights of the 300 thousand children infected by toxic milk. For this he was arrested and sentenced to prison. Now he has dismissed his lawyers and withdrawn his appeal. But many doubts remain. Authorities fear him becoming a symbol for anyone seeking justice.

Beijing (AsiaNews / Agencies) - Zhao Lianhai, sentenced to prison for defending the rights of children affected by the melamine-tainted milk scandal, has not presented an appeal but instead has applied to be released on bail for medical reasons. So says the state news agency Xinhua.

In September 2008 it was found that major dairy producers were selling milk powder for infants containing melamine, a substance used in plastics but poisonous to humans. Zhao defended the rights of child victims of the milk (at least 6 died and 300 thousand were left with kidney problems, including his own daughter) and helped them to lodge compensation claims that the government had initially promised, but then only partially granted , insufficient even to pay for medical expenses. He created a website and began to organize the parents of sick children.

After the sentencing on 11 November to 2 ½ years in prison, for having disturbed public order, Zhao had announced an appeal. His lawyer Li Fangping had gone to visit him in prison on November 22, the last day for him to present his appeal, but was not allowed to see him. Instead, he received a note of dismissal for him and another defence lawyer Peng Jian signed by Zhao himself, dated November 17. The dismissal also takes away the right to appeal which, however, the other lawyer had presented a few days ago.

His wife Li Xuemei, who has not seen Zhao since his conviction, also dismissed the lawyers. Li has lived under strict police control, at least 10 policemen are guarding her house with a camera pointing at her door.

The China Human Rights Lawyer's Concern Group, which protects human rights, has expressed concern that this choice "may not represent the will of Zhao."

Experts commented that the authorities are concerned about the outcry in the media and among the population sympathetic to Zhao. On the Internet there has been open criticism of the ruling, considered by many as a "black page" in the history of Chinese justice.

Youjin Wang, Professor of Political Science and Law at the University of China, has told Radio Free Asia that the authorities fear that Zhao might become a point of reference for those who oppose the injustices of the Communist Party.

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