Chinese Government Must Release Food Safety Activist Zhao Lianhai

UN SpecialRapporteur on the Right to Food ShouldRaise Zhao’s Case During his Mission to China  (Chinese Human RightsDefenders, December 15, 2010)- On December 15, the UNSpecial Rapporteur on theright to food, Olivier De Schutter, begins a 10-daymission to China, the firstofficial visit to China of the Special Rapporteur onthe right to food.  CHRD callsupon the Special Rapporteur toraise the case of imprisoned food safety activist ZhaoLianhai (赵连海)during his meetings with Chinese officials. Zhao, who founded the online advocacy group“Kidney Stone Babies” inresponse to the 2008 tainted milk powder scandal, wasconvicted of “creating adisturbance” and sentenced to two and a half years inprison on November 10,2010. The circumstances surrounding Zhao’s detentionand conviction demonstratethat the Chinese government is more concerned withquelling grassroots callsfor reform than it is with transparently handling foodsafety issues andimplementing the rule of law.  “Zhao’s calls forbetteroversight of the nation’s food supply, increasedgovernment accountability andopenness, and efforts to disseminate information aboutfood safety issues areclosely in line with the mandate of the SpecialRapporteur on the right to food,”said Renee Xia, CHRD’s International Director. “Yetthe Chinese government hasconvicted him of a crime for his activism, and in theprocess made a mockery ofthe legal system and the rule of law.” Zhao’s case has beenmarked from the beginning by violations ofinternational human rights standardsand Chinese law. Detained in November 2009, Zhao wasnot tried for “creating adisturbance” until March 30, 2010, a delay that hislawyer Li Fangping (李方平) said “far exceeded”the legally stipulated timelimits. Evidence of Zhao’s “crime” presented in courtconsisted of his effortsto hold meetings and demonstrations regarding the 2008tainted milk scandal,and interviews he gave to the media to draw attentionto the scandal. CHRDbelieves Zhao was being punished for exercising hisrights to freedom ofexpression, association, and assembly by organizingaggrieved parents to pushfor greater accountability, legal remedies, and reformof the food safety system.After spending more thanseven additional months awaiting his verdict, Zhao was convictedand sentenced on November 10, 2010.Zhao reacted to hisconviction by angrily tearing off his detainee uniformand announcing he wasgoing on a hunger strike in protest; he also stated hewould appeal the ruling.Yet on November 22, the final day on which he couldfile an appeal, Zhao’slawyers received a note allegedly signed by Zhaostating he would no longer needtheir services, and Zhao did not file an appeal. Somehave speculated that Zhaowas pressured into dropping his appeal and firing hislawyers in exchange forrelease on medical parole. However, at the time ofwriting, Zhao's whereaboutsremain unclear and it is believed that he remainsdetained at Daxing DetentionCenter in Beijing. A central tenet of theright to food, enshrined in the Universal Declarationof Human Rights and theInternational Covenant on Economic, Social, andCultural Rights, is thatindividuals must have access to adequatefood,defined as food that, among other conditions, is safefor human consumption.While the Chinese government will undoubtedly point tothe new Food Safety Law,which went into effect in June 2009, as evidence thatit is taking steps toaddress the problem of oversight, food safety remainsa major concern forChinese citizens. This is due in part to a lack ofopenness, marked bydirectives to the media prohibiting reporting on foodsafety incidents and theharassment and prosecution of grassroots activistslike Zhao Lianhai. Until theChinese government allows members of civil society totake part in theoversight of China’s food supply, there is little hopethat it can ensure itscitizens the right to adequate food.CHRD calls for theimmediate release of Zhao Lianhai. We also urge the UNSpecial Rapporteur onthe right to food, Olivier De Schutter, to raiseZhao’s case during his visit. MediaContacts:Renee Xia,International Director (English and Mandarin), +8528191 6937 or +1 301 5479286Wang Songlian,ResearchCoordinator (English and Mandarin), +852 8191 1660David Smalls,Researcher (English) +1 747 448 5285For moreinformation, please see:“BeijingActivist Zhao Lianhai Pressured intoDropping Appeal, Firing Lawyers,” ChinaHuman Rights Briefing November 16-23, 2010, http://chrdnet.org/2010/11/24/china-human-rights-briefing-november-16-23-2010/“Zhao Lianhai,Advocate for Milk Powder Victims, Sentenced to Two andaHalf Years in Prison after Long Delay,” ChinaHumanRights Briefing November 10-15, http://chrdnet.org/2010/11/16/china-human-rights-briefing-november-10-15-2010/“China Tightens Gripon Media in Effort to Control Damage from TaintedMilk Scandal,” September 29, 2008, http://chrdnet.org/2008/09/29/china-tightens-grip-on-media-in-effort-to-control-damage-from-tainted-milk-scandal-2/ For more informationabout the Special Rapporteur on the right to foodand his work, see http://www2.ohchr.org/english/issues/food/index.htm.

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