BEIJING (Reuters) - Beijing police have formally arrested a man who organised a website for parents of children who became ill after drinking tainted milk after his own son became sick.
Zhao Lianhai founded “Kidney Stone Babies” to provide information and resources for parents after about 50,000 Chinese infants were hospitalised last year after drinking milk formula delibrately tainted with melamine. At least six babies died.
Police delivered formal arrest papers to his wife, Li Xuemei, on Monday, charging Zhao with the crime of picking quarrels and provoking trouble, she told Reuters. The charge carries a maximum penalty of five years imprisonment.
Police had taken Zhao away from his home 37 days before.
After an initial cover-up during the Olympic Games in Beijing, China jailed or executed a handful of farmers, milk dealers and executives at Sanlu, the dairy firm that sold the tainted milk, but never announced the sentences for government officials detained after the scandal.
Farmers and dealers had put melamine, an ingredient in plastics and fertiliser, in poor quality milk to show higher protein levels in tests than actually existed.
Sanlu executives said they reported the problem to the government in August 2008, shortly before the Olympic Games began, but China took no public action until September, when Sanlu’s partner, dairy cooperative Fronterra, took the matter up with the New Zealand government.
China set up a compensation fund for children whose health had been seriously damaged, but many of the parents who allied with Zhao had children who were not eligible for compensation.
Zhao’s son, who is now nearly five and in preschool, became mildly sick after eating products that later tested positive for melamine, Zhao told Reuters earlier this year.
On Sept. 11, one year after the scandal became public, Zhao convened a memorial ceremony for parents at his home. Plainclothes police watched outside his apartment but did not intervene, although some parents were prevented from leaving their hometowns to attend.
The “Kidney Stone Babies” website (www.jieshibaobao.com), which features burning Chinese characters against a black background, is currently blocked inside China.
Editing by Ken Wills