March 12, 2009 / 6:46 AM / in 9 years

China's SARS hero demands apology for detention

By Emma Graham-Harrison

BEIJING, March 12 (Reuters) - A military surgeon who blew the whistle on China’s SARS cover-up in 2003 and asked the Communist Party to reassess its 1989 crackdown on Tiananmen protesters has asked the government to apologise for detaining him.

Jiang Yanyong wrote to President Hu Jintao demanding an apology for time he spent confined in an army "guesthouse" and months under house arrest, according to a copy of the letter seen by Reuters. He also asked Hu to lift a ban on overseas travel.

There are no new revelations in the letter, but it is likely to upset the government by raising the sensitive Tiananmen protests just months before the 20th anniversary of the crackdown on pro-democracy protesters, and as officials grapple with economic crisis.

The elderly doctor was hustled away from public view after he riled Communist leaders with an explosive letter in 2004 detailing his experience treating victims of the army assault on central Beijing on June 4, 1989, in which hundreds died.

He accused the army of using "fragmentation bullets" banned by international convention and of duping the soldiers who led the attack into thinking they were suppressing a rebellion.

That letter also detailed the sackings and demotions of colleagues who refused to condemn the students, while the prospects of those who toed the official line brightened.

Jiang asked for the students to be relabelled patriotic. He blamed the events of 1989 on Chen Xitong, who was sacked as Beijing’s Communist Party boss in 1995 for corruption.

In his latest missive, Jiang said that his actions in both 2003 and 2004 were driven only by his responsibility as a doctor to save lives, and leaders would be breaking their promises of change and progress unless they provide him with an apology.

"Only then will they be in compliance with the ideals of Party’s ... leadership: ‘rule by law’, ‘the people first’ and ‘harmonious society’," he wrote.

When contacted by Reuters, Jiang declined to comment because as a Party member he needs permission to speak to foreign media.

PARTY AT RISK

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.

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

Jiang’s whistle-blowing on the deadly SARS epidemic saved countless lives and made him a national hero -- explaining in part the government’s harsh response when he decided to tackle the sensitive Tiananmen protests.

Jiang said he was kidnapped from his office and held for weeks at an army guesthouse where he was forced to undergo "study sessions". After seven weeks he was returned home but placed under house arrest.

Once released, he was barred from travelling abroad, and his request to quit the People’s Liberation Army was also refused, apparently to allow the military to continue to rein him in, sources told Reuters at the time. (Additional reporting by Benjamin Kang Lim; Editing by Nick Macfie and Sugita Katyal)



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