The Perils of Candor

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Shortly after Jiang Yanyong sent an open letter to the media exposing the Chinese government's cover-up of the SARS outbreak in April 2003, he told TIME he doubted he would be punished. The semiretired military surgeon reasoned that as a veteran member of the Communist Party and a doctor exercising his "professional responsibility to protect the health of the people," he had nothing to fear. That assessment might have proved accurate had Jiang not courageously penned a second letter to the party leadership in February--this one denouncing the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre. On June 1, on their way to apply for visas to visit their daughter living in the U.S., the septuagenarian Jiang and his wife Hua Zhongwei disappeared. Initially, officials at his work unit, the No. 301 People's Liberation Army Hospital in Beijing, said the couple had been taken to a secret location "for their protection." Sources told TIME last week that they had been taken into custody by military and party officials determined to re-educate Jiang and make him recant through daily "study sessions" that include viewing films justifying the Tiananmen crackdown. Squeezing from Jiang an expression of regret about the letters, a source told TIME, "would be a great tool with which to undermine the effect of his criticism."

His wife was released after 15 days, but Jiang could be in for a long stretch. The SARS disclosures prompted the ouster of two proteges of Jiang Zemin, 77, China's former President and current chairman of the Central Military Commission. And the Tiananmen letter threatens the chairman's efforts to secure his legacy as a great leader. Indeed, because of the doctor's high rank in the military, Jiang Zemin, in his capacity as military chief, is the only person with legal authority to order his detention. As of last week, Jiang Yanyong showed no inclination to oblige his captors. Says a colleague: "His position on the probity of his opinions hasn't changed."

--By Susan Jakes