A Chinese activist who was jailed for protesting a massive tainted milk scandal apparently has been freed on medical parole, though his former lawyer said Wednesday he may have been coerced into a deal in which he must stay silent.

Zhao Lianhai, whose son was among scores of children sickened in one of China's worst food safety scandals, was sentenced last month to two-and-a-half years in prison for inciting social disorder. He had campaigned for compensation for families of those killed or sickened by milk and milk products tainted with the industrial chemical melamine.

Zhao announced on his blog Tuesday that he was currently hospitalized on medical parole and was sorry for critical remarks he'd made about the Chinese government in the past.

"I support and thank the government and I feel deeply sorry for the remarks I made against the government in the past," the message said.

In the note he admitted his guilt and hoped that people would stop discussing his case.

Zhao's former lawyer Li Fangping said he could not confirm whether the message was genuine because he'd been unable to get in touch with Zhao or his wife. Phone numbers for the couple were not working Tuesday or Wednesday.

Li said he believes the note was written under pressure from authorities who may have given Zhao his freedom in exchange for his silence.

"If he wrote it, it must be that he did so under pressure and was expressing views that aren't his own because it's a complete reversal from what he was saying a month ago, so my personal opinion is that this message is not a reflection of his real views and it's very strange," Li said.

Zhao first vowed to fight his conviction, said he would go on a hunger strike and signed legal forms for an appeal. But he later dropped the appeal and abruptly dismissed Li and another lawyer via a note delivered by prison authorities.

A former Chinese ambassador to the United Nations told reporters in Beijing that Zhao's case had been "satisfactorily resolved."

"As I'm sure everyone knows, just like any country, the mainland judicial system is independent. So I think outsiders should not interfere with it," said Wang Guangya, the director of China's Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office.

Wang made the remark to reporters from Hong Kong, where Zhao's case has attracted broad sympathy and support. The semiautonomous Chinese territory is a hub for democracy activists critical of Beijing.

Zhao was not a hardcore activist when his 3-year-old son developed kidney stones from drinking melamine-tainted milk in 2008. Hundreds of thousands of children were sickened and at least six died from drinking the contaminated milk, which suppliers added so that they could water down their products without detection.

Prosecutors said Zhao incited disorder by organizing a gathering of affected parents at a restaurant, holding a protest sign in front of a court and a factory involved in the tainted milk scandal, and giving media interviews in a public place.

Associated Press writer Min Lee in Hong Kong contributed to this report.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.