Tue, Mar 09, 2004 - Page 1 News List

`SARS hero' blasts Beijing for Tiananmen Incident

REUTERS AND NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , BEIJING

A military doctor who exposed China's SARS cover-up last year was questioned yesterday over a media leak of a letter he wrote to top leaders asking for a reappraisal of the 1989 Tiananmen Incident pro-democracy protests.

A source close to Dr. Jiang Yanyong (蔣彥永) said officials from his hospital came to his home yesterday and asked him how his letter to the Communist Party's 24-seat Politburo had reached the media.

"He told them he didn't leak the letter and that he didn't know how the outside world knew about it. He told them they could conduct an investigation into it," the source said.

Jiang, met by two reporters outside his 12th-story flat in western Beijing, waved his hand and said: "No filming."

"The timing is too sensitive," the 72-year-old surgeon said, apparently referring to the 10-day session of the National People's Congress underway in Beijing.

He declined further comment because of a gag order from the People's Liberation Army, imposed after he blew the whistle on the SARS cover-up last year.

Reporters obtained a copy of Jiang's typewritten letter on Sunday and reported that he had asked the government to reverse the official verdict that the Tiananmen Square protests were a "counter-revolutionary rebellion."

Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of pro-democracy demonstrators were killed in a crackdown on the protests, centered on Tiananmen Square, on June 3 to June 4, 1989.

"The mistake made by our party should be resolved by the party itself," the letter, dated Feb. 24, read. "The sooner and the more thorough the better."

"Year after year, with no correction of the mistake, people feel more and more disappointed and angry," Jiang wrote.

Analysts said rehabilitation of the protesters was unforeseeable in the near future because such a move would be politically sensitive.

It could split the party and trigger a power struggle, they said. Some top leaders involved in, or who benefited from, the army crackdown on the protests are still alive or in power today.

Party leaders labeled the protests a "counterrevolutionary rebellion" and have justified the use of military force as necessary to maintain stability. But this official version of history infuriates many Chinese, even if few dare speak about it publicly.

"The vast majority of people I know in every quarter of society are all clear in their hearts that the June 4 crackdown was absolutely wrong," Jiang wrote. "But because of the pressure from above, they haven't dared to speak their mind."

Analysts said Jiang's letter would embarrass and anger Beijing, but he was unlikely to be jailed for fear of a backlash.

Jiang is a hero to many Chinese for exposing the SARS cover-up. His revelation led to the dismissal of the health minister and the Beijing mayor and prompted truthful, open reporting of the epidemic.

The party's propaganda tsars have blacklisted Jiang, who was called "the honest doctor" by the magazine Caijing, known for pushing the limits of government control.

Jiang recalled watching in horror as 89 patients with bullet wounds were brought into the emergency ward of the No 301 Military Hosp-ital, where Jiang was chief surgeon, during a two-hour period on June 3 and 4, 1989, the letter said.

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