BEIJING – A father who organized a support group for other parents whose children were sickened in one of China’s worst food safety scandals was convicted and sentenced Wednesday to 2 1/2 years in prison for inciting social disorder, his lawyer said.
Zhao Lianhai had pushed for greater official accountability and compensation for victims and their families after the 2008 scandal that shocked China. His sentence appeared particularly severe because the case related to a public safety incident that the embarrassed leadership had pledged to tackle in a bid to restore consumer confidence.
“We’d expected it to be much less than that. It is such a harsh sentence,” lawyer Li Fangping said. “The crimes he was accused of were nothing more than what regular citizens would do to defend their rights.”
Zhao, a Beijing resident whose young son was among scores of children sickened by melamine-tainted milk, vowed to appeal and began a hunger strike to protest the verdict, Li said.
Zhao set up an online forum to share information about the poisonings in 2008 after his son, then 3, was diagnosed with kidney stones.
“When he heard that his sentence was two and a half years, he was appalled, and he pushed away a sign that was in front of him, and said, ‘I’m not guilty. I want to appeal.’ He tried to remove his prison uniform, and refused to be handcuffed,” Li said.