China SARS hero freed from detention

DISSIDENT: Jiang Yanyong gained fame when he revealed the true extent of China's SARS epidemic, but it was his Tiananmen petition that got him into trouble


Fri, Mar 25, 2005 - Page 1


A Chinese military surgeon who petitioned the government to admit it made mistakes in its 1989 assault on pro-democracy protesters has been released from house arrest, his wife said.

Authorities told Jiang Yanyong this week that he was allowed out but did not give a reason for their decision, according to his wife, Hua Zhongwei.

"He's been under house arrest for a long time," Hua said in a telephone interview Wednesday. "His health is fine. Things are good."

She said there were no longer any police outside their home but would not provide any more details, citing military regulations.

Jiang, 73, gained fame when he broke government secrecy to reveal the true scale of Beijing's outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome in 2003. China had initially been slow to give details on the outbreak.

Last year, Jiang wrote to China's legislature asking for a reappraisal of the 1989 demonstrations centered around Tiananmen Square, a topic of enormous sensitivity for the ruling Communist Party.

Leaders have declared the nonviolent protests an anti-government riot and have insisted that the June 3-4 crackdown, in which hundreds -- perhaps thousands -- died, produced a decade of social stability and economic growth.

In a letter dated Feb. 24, 2004, Jiang said ordinary Chinese will be "increasingly disappointed and angry" if the party does not revise its judgment on the incident.

He called on officials to reappraise the demonstrations as a "patriotic movement" and asked for a resolution of "errors committed by our party."

On June 1, Jiang's relatives said he and Hua had been taken from their Beijing home. No reason was given, but authorities regularly detain prominent political activists at home or force them out of the capital in an effort to prevent public memorials during the anniversary of the crackdown.

Hua was freed about two weeks later, while Jiang was released at the end of July and apparently put under house arrest. The doctor has since said he has been banned from speaking to reporters.