Chinese lawyers face pressure to drop milk cases
(Associated Press –
By GILLIAN WONG
A loose grouping of more than 100 lawyers across China have been offering free legal advice to the families of children who became ill after drinking milk laced with the industrial chemical melamine, said Chang Boyang, one of the lawyers.
The group already has helped the parents of a 1-year-old
boy who developed kidney stones after drinking tainted milk to file a lawsuit
against the dairy at the center of the crisis, Sanlu
Group Co. The court in
The government has been struggling to show the public that it is dealing successfully with the scandal, which has battered the country's image, so carefully cultivated during the Beijing Olympics. At least four babies have died and more than 54,000 children have been sickened.
On Monday, the State Council,
But the government has also imposed controls on media coverage of the crisis, suggesting it does not want it to become a focal point of public dismay.
At least 14 lawyers from
officials from the provincial government's justice department to stop their activities, Chang told the Associated Press in a telephone interview.
"They called me and my boss at my law firm and put pressure on me," Chang said. "They said that this has become a political issue and that I ought to follow the arrangements set out by the government."
"If this suggestion is disobeyed, the lawyer and the firm will be dealt with," Chang quoted the official as saying.
Chang said he and the other lawyers from
"This incident will not affect my work. I was just giving the authorities 'face' by taking my name off the list," Chang said. "Sometimes you've got to learn to compromise."
The State Council has ordered hospitals to provide free treatment for sick infants, but children like the toddler whose parents filed last month's lawsuit are not covered because he became sick before the scandal broke on Sept. 12. Free medical care is only available to those sickened after that date.
Chang said the lawyers have been preparing other clients for a potential joint lawsuit if the government continues to refuse to provide compensation.
Chinese authorities have blamed dairy suppliers for the scandal, saying they added melamine to watered-down milk to fool quality control tests and make the product appear rich in protein. The chemical can cause kidney stones as the body tries to eliminate it and, in extreme cases, lead to life-threatening kidney failure.
The crisis _ which has spread overseas with Chinese milk products pulled out of stores in dozens of countries _ has forced the government to fire local and even high-level officials for negligence, and make repeated promises to raise product safety standards.
Guan Sheng Yuan Co. did not say when the candy would go on sale again, according to China Daily. The company could not be immediately contacted Tuesday.
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