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Chinese SARS whistleblower Jiang Yanyong dies at 91

Chinese SARS whistleblower Jiang Yanyong dies at 91


BEIJING — Jiang Yanyong, a Chinese military doctor who revealed the full scope of the 2003 SARS outbreak and was later placed under house arrest because of his political ineptitude, a longtime acquaintance and a Hong Kong newspaper said Tuesday.

Jiang was 91 and died of pneumonia on Saturday in Beijing, according to human rights activist Hu Jia and the South China Morning Post.

News of Jiang’s death and even his name were censored within China, underscoring how he remained politically sensitive even late in life.

Jiang was chief surgeon at the People’s Liberation Army’s main 301 hospital in Beijing when the army stormed the city to end weeks of student rule. pro-democracy protests centered on Tiananmen Squarewhich caused the deaths of hundreds — possibly thousands — of civilians.

In April 2003, as the ruling Communist Party suppressed news of an outbreak of the highly contagious Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, Jiang wrote an 800-word letter stating that there were many more cases of SARS than officially reported by the country’s health minister. country.

Jiang emailed a letter to state broadcaster CCTV and Hong Kong’s Beijing-friendly Phoenix Channel, both of which were ignored. The letter was leaked to Western media outlets who published it in its entirety, along with reports on the true extent of the outbreak and official Chinese efforts to cover it up.

The letter, along with the death of a Finnish United Nations employee and statements by renowned physician Zhong Nanshan, forced the government to lift the crackdown, leading to the resignation of both the health minister and the mayor of Beijing. Strict containment measures were imposed almost overnight, helping to curb the spread of the virus that had already begun to appear abroad.

In total, more than 8,000 people from 29 countries and territories were infected with SARS, resulting in at least 774 deaths.

“Jiang had the conscience of a doctor to put people first. He saved so many lives with that letter, without thinking about the consequences,” Hu told The Associated Press.

Later, Chinese authorities sought to block media access to Jiang, who retired with the rank of major general. He declined an interview with The Associated Press, saying he had not obtained the necessary permission from the Ministry of Defense.

Since 2004, Jiang and his wife have been seasonal placed under house arrest for appealing to Communist leaders for a reexamination of the 1989 protests which remain a taboo subject. It recalled Jiang’s earlier experiences when he was persecuted as a rightist under Mao Zedong in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s.

In 2004, Jiang was awarded the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Public Service from the Philippines, considered by some to be an Asian version of the Nobel Peace Prize. In the citation, he was praised for breaking China’s “habit of silence and forcing the SARS truth to be revealed.”

Jiang was prevented from leaving the country and the award was collected by his daughter on his behalf.

Three years later, he won the Heinz R. Pagels Human Rights of Scientists Award given by the New York Academy of Sciences, but was again barred from traveling.

Rumors of Jiang’s experience were heard in the China’s approach to the first outbreak of COVID-19first detected in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in late 2019.

A Wuhan eye doctor, Li Wenliang, was detained and threatened by the police for allegedly spreading rumors on social media following an attempt to alert others about a “SARS-like” virus. Li’s death on Feb. 7, 2020, sparked widespread outrage against China’s censorship system. Users posted criticism for hours before censors moved to delete posts.

Sympathy and an outpouring of anger over the treatment of Li and other whistleblowers prompted the government to change course and declare him and 13 others martyrs.

COVID-19 has killed nearly 7 million people worldwide, including an estimated 1.5 million in China, whose government has been accused of grossly undercounting the true death toll.

Jiang is survived by his wife Hua Zhongwei, a son and a daughter, according to the South China Morning Post.