China jails tainted milk activist Zhao Lianhai

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A grieving woman protests outside the Ministry of Health in Beijing (May 2009)
Image caption,
Some 300,000 children were made ill and at least six babies died after drinking the tainted milk

A Chinese activist who campaigned for compensation for victims of a 2008 contaminated baby milk scandal has been jailed for two-and-a-half years.

Zhao Lianhai, whose child was among the 300,000 made ill by the milk, was convicted of inciting social disorder.

Mr Zhao founded a website to provide information for parents after it was found milk formula had been laced with the industrial chemical melamine to give it a high protein-content reading.

At least six babies died.

"It is such a harsh sentence," Mr Zhao's lawyer Li Fangping told the Associated Press news agency.

"The crimes he was accused of were nothing more than what regular citizens would do to defend their rights."

Mr Zhao's wife, Li Xuemei, said the sentence was unacceptable.

"We will appeal. This is something we have to do," she was quoted by the Reuters news agency as saying after the verdict was delivered in Beijing.

Catherine Baber of Amnesty International told BBC World Service that parents of the victims were now "devastated and disillusioned".

Mr Zhao had previously worked for the country's food quality and safety authority.

Major embarrassment

Melamine is normally used to make plastics, fertilisers and concrete.

When added to food products it indicates a higher apparent protein content but can cause kidney stones and kidney failure.

In 2008, melamine was found in the products of 22 Chinese dairy companies - one out of every five suppliers in China.

More than 20 people were convicted for their roles in the scandal, and three people were given the death penalty.

The incident led to a worldwide recall of Chinese dairy products, and was a major embarrassment for the leadership, who vowed to tackle the problem and restore consumer confidence.

Mr Zhao's sentence comes at a time when China is facing intense scrutiny over the amount of criticism it tolerates from its own people.

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