HONG KONG—A spokesman for victims in last year's tainted milk scandal detained for weeks has yet to be allowed to speak with his attorney, according to his wife and a colleague.
Zhao Lianhai, the organizer of the victims’ group Coalition of Families of Children with Kidney Stones, was detained by police for “provocative conduct” in the Daxing district of China’s capital, Beijing, three weeks ago.
The activist had traveled to the capital with 41 other parents in the hope of attracting the attention of authorities during U.S. President Barack Obama's state visit.
Zhao’s wife Li Xuemei said her husband’s lawyer, Peng Jian, was permitted to meet with him only once immediately following his arrest.
“There is no information from the police. It has been three weeks now, and Peng Jian went there many times but couldn’t see the police officer in charge of my husband’s case,” she said.
Following Zhao’s detention, Jiang Yalin has emerged as a spokesperson for victims of contaminated baby formula. She said the police officer has been hiding from Zhao’s lawyer.
“No one can locate him now. Each time Zhao’s lawyer Peng Jian requests a meeting, the police say they can’t find him,” Jiang said.
Peng Jian, who answered his phone from the Public Security Bureau in Daxing, described the difficulties he has faced in trying to meet with Zhao.
“The officer in charge of Zhao Lianhai’s case is surnamed Wang. I tried many times but couldn’t reach him. His office refused to give me his cell phone number either,” Peng said.
“The police haven’t provided any new information on the case, and Zhao’s detention is still based on ‘provocative conduct,’” the lawyer added.
Attempts to reach the Daxing Public Security Bureau by telephone went unanswered.
Separately, a second trial involving a lawsuit over tainted milk powder originally scheduled for Dec. 9 in Beijing municipality’s Shunyi county has been postponed by the court.
Peng Jian said one of the defendants had sought the delay.
“One of the defendants is managing the Sanlu Co. bankruptcy,” Peng said, referring to the now-defunct dairy producer was at the heart of the tainted baby milk scandal, which killed at least six children and sickened hundreds of thousands.
“It applied for a medical examination proving the connection between melamine and kidney stones,” he said.
Melamine is the toxic industrial compound that was added to baby formula in a bid to falsely raise the apparent protein content.
The first trial was conducted about two weeks ago in a court in Shijiazhuang, capital of neighboring Hebei province, during which the court announced the completion of bankruptcy procedures for Sanlu.
The result of that trial means there will be no compensation for milk victims, regardless of the outcome of the current trial.
But Beijing-based activist Xu Zhiyong, who has been working with the families of milk victims, said he hopes to add other defendants to the trial for their roles in the scandal.
“We want to add Shijiazhuang’s Bureau of Livestock Farming Management to the list of defendants for the tainted milk trial because they were responsible for managing the milk supplied to Sanlu. We want money to help those kids who are still in miserable condition,” Xu said.
Powder salesmen executed
Authorities in Shijiazhuang executed milk powder salesmen Zhang Yujun and Geng Jinping on Nov. 25 for their role in the scandal.
Zhang was found guilty by the city's Intermediate People's Court of selling more than 600 tons of protein powder laced with melamine.
Geng was convicted of selling more than 900 tons of tainted milk to the Sanlu Group.
The executions came after the life sentence handed down by the same court to former Sanlu chairman Tian Wenhua in January amid a series of sentences handed out to 21 Sanlu executives and suppliers.
Tian's relatively lenient sentence has drawn ire from many of the families of children made sick by Sanlu powder, who have said they wished she had also received the death sentence.
In January this year, China's Ministry of Health announced that approximately 296,000 children in China had been affected by tainted milk powder.
The government has acknowledged six related deaths.
China has tightened regulations and increased inspections on producers and exporters in cooperation with U.S. officials, who have noted a drop in the number of product recalls on Chinese exports.
But it is a tough task to police the country's 450,000 registered food production and processing enterprises, of which about 350,000 employ fewer than 10 people.
Original reporting by Qiao Long for RFA’s Mandarin service. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Translated by Ping Chen. Written for the Web in English by Joshua Lipes. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.