China doctor detained over 'poison' tonic comments released

Beijing (AFP) –


A Chinese doctor held without charge for three months for calling a popular brand of traditional medicine "poison" has been released on bail following a public outcry, reports said.

Tan Qindong was detained by police after the maker of the popular "Hongmao Medicinal Liquor" said he had made "malicious claims" online that "tarnished its name".

The doctor was released on bail on Tuesday evening, hours after the Inner Mongolia prosecutors' office said there was insufficient evidence against him, Tan's lawyer Hu Dingfeng told the state-run Xinhua news agency.

Tan was seized at his home in the southern city of Guangzhou on January 10 and taken to a police detention centre more than 2,300 kilometres (1,700 miles) away in Inner Mongolia, where the drug maker is headquartered.

"I slept beside the toilet, and every day I ate two and a half pieces of steamed bread," Tan said in a video interview with Beijing News on Wednesday.

The physician had questioned the efficacy of the tonic, calling it "poison from heaven" in an online article published in December.

Tan questioned the manufacturer's claims that it could cure a range of illnesses including joint pain and heart disease and said its herbal ingredients could be dangerous for people with high blood pressure or diabetes.

"I was right to write this essay," Tan told Beijing News.

"You must speak up and tell the truth at least a few times in life. Especially, if a doctor doesn't speak up and allows ads about miracle cures to continue, it will cause more damage to society."

China's drug regulator approved the alcohol to be sold as an over-the-counter traditional Chinese medicinal product in 2003.

But since 2010, the medicinal wine has been temporarily pulled from shelves in three provinces, due to "exaggerated advertising claims," data from the drug regulator showed.

In February, the company's advertisements were banned in Shaanxi province as part of a crackdown on food fraud and false advertising.

Tan's arrest angered the medical community and led to a public uproar.

The Chinese Medical Doctors' Association on Monday issued a statement urging government authorities to "avoid criminalising civil disputes".

Traditional Chinese medicine is an enormous industry in China, with a total value in excess of $130 billion in 2016, a third of the total output of the country's medical industry, according to Xinhua.