Fri, Jun 04, 2004 - Page 5 News List

SARS whistleblower goes missing

TIANANMEN The missing man not only blew the lid on China's SARS cover-up but also wrote a letter this year asking that the 1989 democracy protests be reappraised

REUTERS , BEIJING

Jiang Yanyong (蔣彥永), the military doctor who exposed China's SARS cover-up last year, and his wife have disappeared on the eve of the 15th anniversary of the army crackdown on the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, their daughter said yesterday.

Jiang, a hero to many Chinese for blowing the whistle on the government cover-up of an outbreak of the SARS virus, upset the authorities after he wrote a letter to the country's top leaders in February asking for a reappraisal of the student-led pro-democracy protests.

"We, the children of Dr. Jiang Yanyong, would like to appeal to the Chinese government to investigate the disappearance of our parents in Beijing," the couple's daughter Jiang Rui (蔣瑞), who lives in California, said in a statement.

The couple have not returned to their Beijing home since June 1 when they left for the No. 301 Military Hospital, where Jiang, 72, is a semi-retired surgeon, the daughter quoted neighbors as saying.

"While we do not want to speculate as to what happened to our parents, we believe the authorities of Beijing 301 Military Hospital are deliberately withholding information from us," the daughter said.

"Our family's inquiries to the hospital authorities about our parents' whereabouts have been met with dubious answers," she said.

She said that the family had simply been told: "They are safe."

The hospital spokesman, reached by telephone, declined to comment.

Chinese police have forced dissidents out of Beijing in the run-up to the politically sensitive Tiananmen anniversary.

Jiang Yanyong's revelation that the government was covering up an outbreak of SARS led to the sacking of the health minister and the Beijing mayor and prompted truthful, open reporting of the epidemic.

Jiang Yanyong stepped forward and made a similar appeal for a reassessment on the 10th anniversary of the crackdown in 1999, but it fell on deaf ears.

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

Analysts said rehabilitation of the 1989 protests was unforeseeable in the near future because such a move would be politically sensitive and risky.

It could split the Communist Party and trigger a power struggle, they said. Some top leaders involved in, or who benefited from, the massacre are still alive or in power today.

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