News Roundup [abridged Versions Appear In The Paper Journal]

Chinese government detains doctor who criticised it

BMJ 2004; 329 doi: (Published 15 July 2004) Cite this as: BMJ 2004;329:130
  1. Jane Parry
  1. Hong Kong

    The doctor who exposed the under-reporting of cases of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in China is in custody and is being subjected to “study sessions,” in which he is being pressured to bring his views into line with those of the government.

    Dr Jiang Yanyong is thought to have angered the Chinese authorities in two ways. Not only did he show that the Chinese government was failing to record accurately all SARS cases last year (BMJ 2003;326:839) but he also recently criticised the 1989 military crackdown on student protests in Tiananmen Square.

    According to a report from Reuters news agency Dr Jiang and his wife, Hua Zhongwei, both aged 72, were detained on 1 June and were told to write down their thoughts. A source told Reuters that they were to remain in custody “as long as their thoughts had not changed.”

    In February this year Dr Jiang wrote a letter to China's senior leaders calling on them to reappraise the official verdict on the military crackdown and to reverse its definition of the student movement as counter-revolutionary. At the time of the crackdown Dr Jiang was a surgeon at the People's Liberation Army 301 Hospital in Beijing, where in the space of two hours he witnessed 89 people being admitted with bullet wounds.

    “I saw young people covered in blood … the bullets the soldiers used were so called dumdum bullets which explode inside the body,” he wrote. “The atrocities were responsible for the death of several hundred innocent people in Beijing's streets and the wounding of thousands more.”

    Although Dr Jiang sent the letter confidentially to Premier Wen Jiabao, the vice premiers, and other senior leaders the letter was leaked to the press and got international coverage. In the days leading to the 15th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown Dr Jiang and his wife were taken into custody.

    “We thought that during this sensitive time they would be detained for a short period and then released,” said his daughter Jiang Rui, who is based in California. Ms Hua was released on 15 June.

    So far Dr Jiang is believed to be in good health and being kept in adequate physical conditions, but he is being held incommunicado, and his daughter is worried that his continuing detention could end with him being charged.

    Although Dr Jiang's detention stemmed from his letter about the Tiananmen Square crackdown, his exposure in April 2003 of China's cover up of the true extent of the SARS outbreak is thought to have played a part. “Since he exposed SARS he has been under surveillance, and we are pretty sure his phone has been tapped. He was also told not to talk to any media, either local or international. He was under some pressure already, but after the release of the letter that pressure has been increased,” Ms Jiang said.

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