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(New York) -- Chinese authorities should immediately release Dr. Jiang Yanyong, a government critic who exposed the government's cover-up of last year's SARS epidemic, Human Rights Watch said today. Dr. Jiang, 72 years old, and his wife Dr. Hua Zhongwei, have been heard from only once since government agents arbitrarily detained them on June 1 while en route to the U.S. Embassy in Beijing to obtain a visa.

Dr. Jiang's detention appears to have been part of the government's crackdown on critics ahead of the fifteenth anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre on June 4, 1989. He had publicly called for a reexamination of the events surrounding the massacre. Several dissidents were harassed and effectively subjected to house arrest.

On June 1, Drs. Jiang and Hua left their home in an official hospital car and were expected back in two hours. They have not been seen since. On June 4 one of the couple's children received a note from Dr. Hua saying they were fine, but suggesting that the family not plan for their usual summer vacation. On June 8 officials notified their son he should deliver some of his father's personal belongings to Chinese authorities. Such requests generally signal a release is not imminent. No criminal charges have been filed against Dr. Jiang and his wife.

"When a courageous doctor points out the Chinese government's abusive practices, he should be honored," said Sam Zarifi, deputy director of Human Rights Watch's Asia Division. "Instead, the government has detained Dr. Jiang and held him incommunicado."

Chinese authorities previously targeted Dr. Jiang in April 2003, when he challenged the Health Ministry's assertion that only 19 people in Beijing were suffering from Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS. Dr. Jiang's report that there were at least 170 known cases forced the ministry to publicly reveal the extent of the epidemic.

Human Rights Watch said that immediately after the SARS revelations, authorities began shadowing Dr. Jiang and monitoring his communications. In February 2004, he wrote a private letter to the National People's Congress and other Chinese leaders detailing what he witnessed during the Tiananmen massacre. In his letter, he proposed "that we must correctly characterize the students' patriotic movement on 4 June 1989."

In the wake of the letter, Chinese officials clamped down even harder on Dr. Jiang. He has been pressured continuously to admit that writing the letter was a serious political mistake.

Authorities at his place of employment, the No. 301 People's Liberation Army Hospital, demanded he receive permission before attending even social events. Officials screened all visitors to Dr. Jiang's home and quizzed him after some guests departed. He was told he could no longer treat patients at other facilities without No. 301's assent. Hospital authorities went so far as to send a "minder" along when he traveled to Xinjiang to treat an old patient.

"China wants to project an image of progress and rule of law, but Dr. Jiang's arbitrary detention shows that this government is not bound by constraints -- save protecting itself," Zarifi said.

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