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Govt & Fonterra must condemn "San Lu" executions

Amnesty International Aotearoa New Zealand Press Release

For immediate release
25 November 2009

New Zealand government and Fonterra must condemn “San Lu” executions

Amnesty International is calling on both the New Zealand Government and Fonterra to condemn the executions of two people involved in the San Lu tainted milk powder scandal and to raise those concerns with China.

Zhang Yujun and Geng Jinping were executed reportedly on Tuesday for respectively endangering public safety and producing and selling toxic food, during a scandal in which at least six children died and more than 300,000 fell ill.

“Amnesty continues to be dismayed and disappointed by China’s use of the death penalty and particularly as this is against the global trend to stop its use. New Zealand has long been an opponent of the death penalty - and with the New Zealand link to this tragedy, it is important that our government strongly raises its concerns about the executions with Chinese officials,” says Amnesty New Zealand spokesperson, Margaret Taylor

“As a New Zealand company operating in China, Fonterra has an obligation to uphold the values of New Zealand through the way it conducts itself. Not only must it speak out against the executions, following a scandal it was so closely associated with, but it must also use its ongoing engagement with China to work on improving human rights and particularly labour rights,” says Taylor.

“This case compellingly highlights the link between trade and human rights, and is indicative of the ripple effect a denial of rights in one area can have on human rights generally,” she adds.

Amnesty is also concerned at the Chinese government’s persecution and imprisonment of parents of children who fell ill or died and who have been campaigning for justice for affected families.

The father of one such child, Zhao Lianhai, has in the past few days been detained in Beijing, and he is at risk of ill treatment or torture.

He has been a leading figure in organising the parents of those affected, and in helping parents file a lawsuit against the companies that produced the contaminated milk by collecting and organising information on individual cases.

“Amnesty International considers Zhao Lianhai a prisoner of conscience and has called for his immediate and unconditional release. We urge the New Zealand Government and Fonterra to seek assurances from the Chinese Government that he will be immediately released, not ill treated or tortured and given access to family, lawyers and to any medical attention he may need,” says Taylor

Backgrounder

The “San Lu” tainted milk scandal, which broke in September 2008, is considered one of China’s worst food safety scandals. It saw the tainting of infant formula with the industrial chemical melamine, which can cause kidney stones and kidney failure.

At least six children died and more than 300,000 became sick.

Zhang Yujun and Geng Jinping are believed to be the only two of 21 people tried and sentenced in January to be executed.

Fonterra held a 43% stake in San Lu which has, since the scandal, gone into bankruptcy.

Allegations that news of the milk tainting was suppressed by the Chinese Government until after the Beijing Olympics have still to be publicly investigated.

Human rights activists in China, and including those campaigning for justice on behalf of their children made ill or killed through melamine tainted milk, face serious risk of abuse. Risks include imprisonment after politically motivated trials, house arrest, intrusive police surveillance and standing guard outside homes. Those detained are at a heightened risk of ill-treatment and torture.

Amnesty International holds the absolute position that in every instance the death penalty is abhorrent and inappropriate. It has regularly condemned China’s use of the death penalty. Further exacerbating the situation is that unfair trials are commonplace in China and there are no guarantees that those facing a death sentence will receive a fair hearing.

ENDS

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