Wed, Jul 07, 2004 - Page 5 News List

SARS hero undergoing `re-education'


The elderly Chinese surgeon who became a national hero by exposing the government's cover-up of the SARS epidemic last year is again locked in a battle of wills with the authorities that could have profound political ramifications.

Jiang Yanyong, 72, a doctor in the People's Liberation Army, is being detained by security officials at an undisclosed location, where he is under daily pressure to renounce a fiercely critical letter he wrote about the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.

If he backs down, hardliners in the communist party will have neutered one of their most powerful opponents; if he is sentenced to jail, he would become one of the country's most famous and popular political prisoners.

The London-based Guardian newspaper has seen a letter sent by an anonymous sympathizer who details the "daily brainwashing sessions" faced by Jiang since he and his wife were manhandled into an armored vehicle on June 1, as they were about to drive to the US embassy to apply for a travel visa.

They were among dozens of dissidents and politically sensitive figures who were removed from public view before the anniversary of the Tiananmen killings on June 4.

However, while most of the others were released soon after, Jiang has not been seen since. On June 8, his son was asked to provide his dentures. Two days later, his tickets for America were cancelled.

His wife, Hua Zhongwei, who had gone on hunger-strike when officials told her she could not stay with her husband, was released on June 15 and told not to speak to reporters.

According to the letter, Jiang has been warned he will be kept under 24-hour supervision and forced to undergo political re-education until he "changes his thinking" about the army's attack on civilians.

But in a recent note, the doctor -- a veteran of labour camps during the cultural revolution -- expressed his determination not to back down.

Security officials are interrogating him about a letter he wrote in February describing his horror at trying to treat the dying victims of the massacre and called on the communist party to reinterpret their protest as an act of patriotism.

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