SARS Hero Declines Human Rights Scientist Award

August 21, 2007 Updated: August 21, 2007

Jiang Yanyong, a Chinese military physician who bravely disclosed the cover-up of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) epidemic in China was presented with the 2007 annual Human Rights Scientist Award by the New York Academy of Sciences. The award was presented to recognize the two Chinese medical doctor's outstanding contribution in the medical field, especially their continuous effort in preventing the spread of SARS and AIDS in China. The other awardee is Dr. Gao Yaojie, a retired gynecologist from Henan Province who helped to prevent the spread of AIDS in China. The New York Academy of Sciences had arranged to cover both the hotel and travel expenses between New York and China for the two awardees.

In an interview with Radio Free Asia (RFA), Dr. Jiang confirmed that he would not attend the award ceremony. He had already written to the chairman of the awards committee in August. In his letter Jiang stated, “The Human Rights Award is a political award, it is not a scientific award.” For this reason, he will not accept the award. When a reporter asked whether he was under pressure to refuse the award, Jiang responded in the same simple manner he always has—”A person in the military doesn't have the convenience to say too much.”

Reporter: “Why are you unable to attend?”

Jiang: “My apologies. As a member of the military I am not allowed to answer political questions.”

Jiang faxed his letter on August 1, Chinese Army Day. The letter said, “Considering the fact that I am engaged in medical practice, while the Human Rights Scientist Award completely comes from a political aspect, therefore, it is not a scientific award. Because of this reason, I have decided not to accept this award.”

Reporter: “Are you under pressure? Was that yourself…”

Jiang: “I prefer not to answer this question. Is that all right?”

Reporter: “Was it because you didn't want to go yourself? Or was it for some other reason?”

Jiang: “My apologies on this matter, you need to ask the Chairman. I have sent my response to him.”

While on the phone, Jiang didn't repeat what was stated in the fax, “The Human Rights Scientist Award is given for political reasons, therefore, it is not a scientific award.” Mr. Sun Wenguang, a retired professor from Shandong University said. “The military has put a lot of pressure on his relatives including his children. I think Dr. Jiang is keeping quiet to protect his retirement status with the Army. In the past, he disclosed the cover-up of SARS, which shocked the world. Later, he openly expressed his attitude toward the military's role in the Tiananmen Massacre in 1989, stating this it was wrong. This is not an easy thing at all.”

Sun also said, for seniors like Jiang, the pressure on relatives is enormous. While Jiang himself is not willing to be completely separated from the existing system, he is also not willing to bring troubles to his family members. Even though he is being presented with the Human Rights Scientist Award by the New York Academy of Sciences, he is unwilling to attend the award presentation. Now the political situation in China is similar to the Soviet Union. The dictatorship controls all areas of one's life and how it is lived.

Overseas, members of the Committee for Human Rights of the New York Academy of Sciences, Liu Gang, Wei Jingsheng, and Wang Dan have sent an open letter to President Hu Jintao, asking him to allow Jiang to visit New York and accept the award.

On October 25, 1958, The Swedish Academy awarded the Nobel Price for Literature to Boris Pasternak, the writer of the former Soviet Union, recognizing his renowned long novel, Dr. Zhivago . Mr. Pasernak wrote back stating, “Unlimited thanks, inspiration, pride, shock and regret. Considering the effect and difficulty brought to my country from presenting me the Nobel Prize, I must decline it. Please do understand the declination from the bottom of my heart.” The award ceremony in 1958 could not be held because the Pasternak couldn't attend.