December 28, 2005

China bars SARS hero from leaving country or army

By Benjamin Kang Lim

BEIJING (Reuters) - A military doctor who exposed China's
SARS cover-up has been barred from visiting the United States,
in keeping with curbs imposed after he asked for a re-appraisal
of the 1989 Tiananmen protests, sources said on Wednesday.

Jiang Yanyong's request to quit the People's Liberation
Army was also refused, apparently to allow the military to
continue to rein him in, two sources familiar with his plight
told Reuters.

"They won't let him leave the country or retire," said one
source who met Jiang recently, requesting anonymity.

Jiang's wife, Hua Zhongwei, left in July to visit their
daughter in California but the 74-year-old semi-retired surgeon
was unable to join them. Contacted by Reuters, he declined to
comment on whether he wanted to quit the military.

His employer, the No. 301 Hospital, refused to comment.

Jiang became a hero to many Chinese for exposing the SARS
cover-up in 2003 that led to the sacking of the health minister
and the Beijing mayor and prompted accurate reporting of the

A second source said Jiang has been told that military
officers holding his rank and higher cannot quit.

The No. 301 Hospital sat on his application to visit the
United States, the source said.

"They want to contain his influence ... and erase him from
public memory," the source added.


Jiang was freed from months of house arrest in March this
year but 10 restrictions were placed on him, including curbs on
speaking without permission to Chinese and foreign reporters,
traveling overseas and attending activities at the invitation
of foreign groups or individuals.

"The authorities are worried once he is outside the country
none of the restrictions would apply," the second source said.

The military took Jiang into custody last year after he
wrote a letter to top leaders seeking a re-appraisal of the
Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protests which were crushed by
the army on June 4, 1989.

He was allowed to go home after seven weeks, during which
he was forced to undergo "study sessions," but his movements
were restricted for a further eight months.

Jiang's daughter accepted the Ramon Magsaysay Award for
public service, Asia's equivalent of the Nobel Prize, on his
behalf in Manila last year because he was not allowed to travel

Analysts say a revision of the official verdict that the
1989 student-led protests were counter-revolutionary or
subversive, is unlikely in the near future. Hundreds were

Such a step could split the Communist Party leadership and
trigger a power struggle. Some top leaders involved in, or who
benefitted from, the massacre are still alive or influential.

Zhao Ziyang, who was toppled as Communist Party chief for
opposing the crackdown, died in January after more than 15
years under house arrest.