Thu, Jul 22, 2004 - Page 5 News List

SARS hero released from Chinese jail

THE GOOD DOCTOR Jiang Yanyong, the surgeon who exposed the cover-up of SARS last year, has been release from military custody after crticising the Tiananmen Massacre



Chinese military authorities have released the surgeon who exposed China's SARS cover-up and condemned the 1989 crackdown on democracy protesters, apparently bowing to the doctor's status as a local hero and to international pressure to free him, people informed about his case said.

The doctor, Jiang Yanyong (蔣彥永), 72, returned home late Monday night after about 45 days in military custody, where he underwent political indoctrination sessions and was investigated for possible criminal activity, said one person who had been told about his case. He is not expected to be charged with a crime.

Jiang, who is a senior Communist Party member, is expected to be kept under surveillance and to be prohibited from making contact with outsiders.

Yet the decision to allow him to return home appears to amount to a rare victory for an individual who directly and repeatedly confronted China's Communist Party leaders. In a letter released in February, Jiang pressed state leaders to admit that the Tiananmen Square Massacre, perhaps the single most sensitive political vulnerability for China's current generation of leaders, was wrong.

While there is no evidence that senior officials are reconsidering their stance that the 1989 crackdown was justified, the decision to detain and then release Jiang suggests that leaders are conflicted when handling high-level dissent on the issue. That may fuel hopes that the party will sooner or later apologize for the bloody suppression of protesters that year.

"I think many people believe that detaining him was stupid," said a party official interviewed while Jiang was being held. "On the one hand, he can't be allowed to criticize without punishment. But on the other, party elders do not allow their own people to be punished for nothing. He is elderly, he has a certain status, and he did nothing wrong."

The detention prompted sustained international criticism from human rights groups. US National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice urged Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing (李肇星) of China to release Jiang when she visited Beijing earlier this month.

There was no official announcement of Jiang's detention on June 1, and the government has also said nothing publicly about his release. Jiang's wife and children could not be reached for comment.

But it seems likely that authorities will claim internally that Jiang showed remorse for his actions and, in Chinese party terminology, made progress in his political thinking under the instruction of military authorities.

While in custody Jiang was made to write a "thought report" each day. By the end of his detention, Jiang had altered the report in a way that may allow his interrogators to claim that he had admitted errors, the person informed about his case said.

Jiang's supporters grew optimistic about the prospects for his release earlier this month. On July 7, two officers from the military's General Logistics Department visited Jiang's wife, Hua Zhongwei, and informed her that Jiang had "shown progress in his thoughts." Hua was shown a seven-page statement written by Jiang that contained reflections that authorities argued were confessional in tone.

The doctor, this person said, wrote that he had learned that the "Communist Party confronted by the student protests was much like a patient with complicated colorectal cancer where, without emergency surgery, death was imminent." The statement suggests that Jiang acknowledged the threat the party perceived in the student-led protests. It does not directly endorse the decision to crush dissent.

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