Chinese police have tried to prevent parents of children sickened by tainted milk powder from traveling to Beijing to mark the anniversary of last year's scandal, an activist said on Thursday.
Milk powder contaminated with an industrial chemical killed at least six babies and sickened nearly 300,000 others with painful kidney stones, making it one of China's worst food safety scandals.
Zhao Lianhai, the father of a sickened child who has rallied other families through a Web site he created, said 11 parents had planned to hold a small commemoration in Beijing on Friday with a dinner, lighting of candles and prayers for the children. "The scandal has affected a whole generation of China's future," Zhao said in a phone interview. "This day is a humiliation for all Chinese. It is a national disaster. We should have the courage to remember this day."
Friday marks one year since Sept. 11, 2008, when a Chinese dairy recalled hundreds of tons of baby formula and the government vowed "serious punishment" for those responsible for the contamination, days after the scandal was first reported in Chinese media.
The commemoration also comes amid efforts by Chinese authorities to curb dissent in the lead-up to the 60th anniversary of the Communist Party's rule. Police have arrested or detained leading dissidents and are harassing lawyers who defend them. The Oct. 1 celebration will be marked by a military parade.
On Wednesday, police in two different provinces detained one parent while he was making his way to Beijing by train and warned another not to attend the event, Zhao said. Two other parents were no longer reachable on their mobile phones, he said.
Liu Hai, a father whose two children suffered kidney stones after taking tainted milk powder, said he was detained by police on Wednesday in Kunshan city of Jiangsu province while waiting for a train. The police told him they had to stop him because he was headed to an "illegal gathering," Liu said by phone, while being taken in a county government car to his hometown of Siyang.
An official at the Kunshan police propaganda department who refused to give his name said he has no information about Liu's case.
Zhao said in the days running up to the anniversary, several parents have reported being warned by police that their group was an illegal organization. However, Beijing's public security bureau Thursday issued him a letter saying the anniversary event had been approved. The discrepancy in official positions on the commemoration could not immediately be explained.