Zhao Lianhai, Advocate for Sanlu Victims, Held

Zhao Lianhai, administrator of the website “Home for the Kidney Stone Babies” created after the melamine controversy in Fall 2008, was recently arrested. Via Global Times:

The founder of the organization “Home for the Kidney Stone Babies,” Zhao Lianhai was arrested in Daxing district by the police on Friday night. Li Xuemei, Zhao’s wife, told the Global times that about a dozen police officers from Daxing District Public Security Bureau and Tuanhe substation presented a warrant for Zhao’s arrest.

When Zhao refused to go with them, as the summons did not clearly state why, the police officers called their superior, who amended the warrant, alleging Zhao was suspected of being involved in the crime of “provoking an incident.”

Officers took away many items, including two computers, a video recorder, a camera, a USB drive, campaign T-shirts and an address book.

The arrest occurred just two hours after Zhao and Wang Gang, the father of a baby stricken by Sanlu’s poisoned milk powder , successfully received an official apology from Haidian police.

Catherine A. Yeung of Under the Jacaranda Tree has translated a petition for his release. Excerpted:

It is understood that Zhao’s arrest is linked to another incident that took place earlier. The trial of the first compensation claim lodged by the parents of a Kidney Stone Baby was supposed to commence on 10 November 2009. Many people, including the parents of some victims, had worked very hard for over a year in preparation for the trial. However, a day before the trial, the plaintiff’s parent Wang Gang was arrested and roughed up by the Police. Information in relation to the court case was confiscated. As a result, the trial had to be postponed.

Because of this, Zhao Lianhai has been busy collecting signatures for a letter of protest. It is ashamed that the Beijing Police will treat such a peaceful act of protest as a provocation. The signatures that Zhao has collected from over 500 netizens are now used as evidence against him. His computers, cameras and campaign T-shirts are all confiscated. Who, in their right minds, could have imposed such cruelty on the children and their parents, who are already victims of the worst man-made disaster? The slogan we once used to advocate for the release of another rights activist (“Your Mum asks you to go home for dinner”) is now changed to: “The 2 kids are calling for their Dad to come home for dinner”.

The Beijing Police had made a serious mistake when they arrested Zhao Lianhai. They are making a bad situation even worse by inflicting more pain on those whose sufferings are already unbearable. So on this bitterly cold winter day we urge all netizens to join us in protest against the detention. We urge you to sign this petition to call for the immediate release of Zhao Lianhai.

Earlier, in March, Ariana Eunjung Cha wrote about Zhao for the Washington Post:

When Zhao Lianhai created a Web site for parents of children hurt or killed by contaminated milk, he did not set out to challenge the Communist Party. He did it because his son was sick. The 3-year-old had been diagnosed with kidney stones and Zhao was scared. He needed advice.

Within days, more than 4,000 families signed up, and soon the discussion evolved from technical questions and answers about medical care to demands for punishment and compensation. It wasn’t long before the 37-year-old former advertising salesman became the de facto spokesman, organizer and lobbyist for thousands of parents across the country whose children had suffered after drinking infant formula or milk that had been illegally doctored with the industrial chemical melamine.

In a country where every leader must be appointed, approved or otherwise sanctioned by the party, the fact that Zhao has been allowed to operate relatively freely is a testament to the government’s careful approach to those he represents. It is perhaps out of respect for their concerns — or fear of them.

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