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China won't allow doctor to travel to US for award

BEIJING -- A Chinese doctor who exposed the cover up of China's SARS outbreak in 2003 has been barred from traveling to the United States to collect a human rights award, a friend of the doctor and a human rights group said this week.

The doctor, Jiang Yanyong, a retired surgeon in the People's Liberation Army, was awarded the Heinz R. Pagels Human Rights of Scientists Award by the New York Academy of Sciences. His army-affiliated work unit, Beijing's Hospital 301, denied him permission to travel to the award ceremony in September, said Hu Jia, a Chinese rights promoter who is a friend of Jiang's, yesterday.

The Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy, based in Hong Kong, also issued a statement reporting the rejection of the travel request.

Jiang rose to international prominence in 2003, when he disclosed in a letter circulated to international news organizations that at least 100 people were being treated in Beijing hospitals for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS. At the time, Chinese medical authorities were asserting that the nation had only a handful of cases.

The revelation prompted China's top leaders to acknowledge that they had provided false information about the epidemic.

Jiang was hailed in Chinese and foreign news media. He used his new prestige in 2004 to press Chinese authorities to admit that the leadership had erred in ordering the military to shoot unarmed civilians staging pro democracy demonstrations in Tiananmen Square in Beijing in June 1989. Jiang was subsequently detained for several months, people involved in his defense say.

He was eventually allowed to go home but remained under constant watch , friends and human rights groups say.