China Releases SARS Doctor Under Media Gag Order


2004-07-20
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Jiang Yanyong and AIDS activist Gao Yaojie in an undated photo Photo courtesy Chinesenewsnet.com

HONG KONG — ; China has released a military doctor who called for a reappraisal of the bloody 1989 crackdown on the Tiananmen pro-democracy movement following several weeks of detention, RFA's Mandarin service reports.

Jiang Yanyong, 72, was allowed to return to his Beijing home Tuesday, but the case against him had not been closed, and he was under orders not to give media interviews, rights groups and relatives said.

Jiang's son Jiang Qing confirmed that his father had returned home safely. "All I can say is that he is at home and that he's in good health," Jiang told a Hong Kong television station. "You will have to find [the details] from somewhere else, I'm sorry."

Jiang became famous in 2003 as the doctor who blew the whistle on a massive cover-up by Chinese health authorities of the extent of the SARS outbreak in the city that year, and has been lauded as a hero for doing so in the media and in Internet chatrooms across the country.

On Feb. 24, 2004 he threw the full weight of his fame behind renewed calls for an official reappraisal of the Tiananmen Square protests as a "patriotic movement", risking a happy and peaceful retirement to do so, his daughter Jiang Rui said in a recent interview with RFA.

He was secretly detained in Beijing June 1, 2004, together with his wife Hua Zhongwei. The couple were on their way to apply for visas to visit their daughter in California. Hua was released fairly soon, but Jiang's continued detention led to concerns that the authorities were preparing subversion charges against him.

However, Jiang had convinced government investigators of his honesty and lack of subversive intent although they concluded he was politically naive, a source close to the proceedings was quoted as saying by Reuters.

Future personal travel would have to be approved by his employers, the People's Liberation Army 301 Hospital, the source said, placing Jiang under a virtual form of house arrest.

"It's a complete outrage to detain an old man like him who speaks the truth," Beijing-based dissident Liu Xiaobo told RFA's Mandarin service. "The longer they detain him, the greater will be the political cost."

Liu said an increasing number of respected figures from within the establishment had spoken out recently. "That someone like him from within the system can send quite a strong message that will attract the concern of the overseas media and cause quite a strong reaction, and the strength of the reaction against him from within the system, against such an elderly person, shows how rotten the system has become in the eyes of the people," Liu said.

Jiang is likely to have been released following strong international interest in his case, both through media reports and behind-the-scenes diplomatic pressure. U.S. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice is believed to have raised Jiang's case with China's leaders during her visit earlier this month.

Human rights commentators said Jiang's case had also highlighted the growing insecurity of China's government around the dissemination of news and political debate via the Internet. While China has invested billions of yuan in a state monitoring system of Internet content, it will never completely stamp out on-line dissent, U.S.-based dissident Xiao Qiang said in a recent commentary for RFA.

Xiao said the authorities' treatment of Jiang had caused concern within China, especially among the nation's netizens.

"Formal Web sites within China never mention Dr. Jiang's name directly because they are under the control of China's Internet police. But there has been a large increase recently in the number of people using Jiang's name in search engines, and I would guess that there is an even greater increase among e-mails, which are less obvious," Xiao said.

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