BEIJING (AP) — A man who organized a support group for parents of children sickened in one of China's worst food safety scandals pleaded not guilty Tuesday to charges of inciting social disorder, his lawyer said.
Zhao Lianhai was behind a push for greater accountability and compensation for the victims and their families of the 2008 scandal that shocked China. More than 300,000 children were sickened by milk powder tainted by an industrial chemical, including Zhao's son, who is now 5 years old. At least six children died.
After the six-hour trial, lawyer Li Fangping said he expected a verdict within two weeks. Phones at the Daxing District Court rang unanswered.
Before going into the courthouse, Li showed reporters the statement that Zhao planned to read and eventually was allowed to read in part in court. "We should be firm with our principles and beliefs, otherwise it will affect our souls ... in which case we'll really be guilty," it said.
Zhao, who rallied families through a Web site he created that details the crisis, was taken away by police in November. His wife and two children haven't seen him since.
His wife, Li Xuemei, was not allowed into the court, and as the trial dragged on past the one or two hours it was expected to last, she grew increasingly frustrated and peppered court officials with questions.
"What are you scared of?" she shouted while holding her son Zhao Pengrui. "Why are you like mice?"
About a dozen supporters stood with her, wearing yellow ribbons and arguing with officials while half-dozen police stood by silently. "They call him the accused, we call him a hero," said one woman, Ye Jinghuan.
Li Xuemei told reporters her family now depended on donations from supporters for daily expenses.