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China sentences tainted milk activist to jail

By the CNN Wire Staff
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • China's tainted-milk scandal killed at least 6 children
  • Another 300,000 children were sickened
  • Activist is sentenced to 2.5 years in jail
  • Tainted-milk producers have been sentenced to death

Beijing, China (CNN) -- A Chinese court sentenced an activist to two-and-a-half years in jail Wednesday after he helped organize parents following the country's tainted-milk scandal, his attorney said.

Zhao Lianhai was convicted for "disturbing social order" by a district court in Beijing.

"This verdict is unfair and unjustifiable," according to Zhao's attorney Li Fanping, who said he will appeal.

"Because he has already served one year up to this point, we expect him to only have to serve one year and a half more with this sentence," Li said. "However we will definitely appeal as this verdict is completely unfair."

Zhao set up a support group and website for the parents of children, who were sickened by melamine-tainted milk in 2008 and 2009, according to Amnesty International, which condemned the verdict and the sentence.

"We are appalled that the authorities have imprisoned a man the Chinese public rightly view as a protector of children, not a criminal," said Catherine Baber, the group's deputy director for the Asia-Pacific. "Zhao Lianhai should never have been arrested for organizing a self-help group and exercising his legal rights to seek compensation from a commercial firm."

The tainted milk killed at least six children in China and sickened hundreds of thousands more.

Zhao, who's own son became sick from the milk, started his website support group so parents could share information on health problems and how to sue the companies involved, including the Sanlu Group.

After being arrested about a year ago, Zhao's case went to trial in March. He was originally charged with "causing public disturbance" for leading a rally of parents, who wanted compensation.

Producers of the tainted milk have received sentences of up to life in prison and death from Chinese courts.