Category Archives: Coronavirus

Chinese citizen journalist jailed for Wuhan virus reporting

Yahoo – AFP, 28 December 2020 

Authoroties said former Chinese lawyer and citizen journalist
Zhang Zhan had spread "False remarks" online.

A Chinese citizen journalist was jailed for four years Monday for her reporting from Wuhan as the Covid-19 outbreak began, her lawyer said, almost a year after details of an "unknown viral pneumonia" surfaced in the central China city. 

Zhang Zhan, a former lawyer who arrived at court in a wheelchair, was sentenced at a brief hearing in a Shanghai court for allegedly "picking quarrels and provoking trouble" during her reporting in the chaotic initial stages of the outbreak. 

Her live reports and essays were shared on social media platforms in February, grabbing the attention of authorities, who have punished eight virus whistleblowers so far as they curb criticism of the government's response to the outbreak. 

Beijing has congratulated itself for "extraordinary" success in controlling the virus inside its borders, with an economy on the rebound while much of the rest of the world stutters through painful lockdowns and surging caseloads a year on from the start of the pandemic in Wuhan. 

Controlling the information flow during an unprecedented global health crisis has been pivotal in allowing China's communist authorities to reframe the narrative in their favour, with President Xi Jinping being garlanded for his leadership by the country's ruling party. 

But that has come at a serious cost to anyone who has picked holes in the official storyline. 

The court said Zhang Zhan had spread "false remarks" online, according to one of her lawyers Zhang Keke, but the prosecution did not fully divulge its evidence in court. 

"We had no way of understanding what exactly Zhang Zhan was accused of doing," he added, describing it as "a speedy, rushed hearing." 

In return the defendant "didn't respond [to questions]... She refused to answer when the judge asked her to confirm her identity." 

The defendant's mother sobbed loudly as the verdict was read out, Ren Quanniu, another member of Zhang's defence team, told reporters who were barred from entering the court. 

Concerns are mounting over the health of 37-year-old Zhang, who began a hunger strike in June and has been force-fed via a nasal tube. 

Her legal team said her health was in decline and she suffered from headaches, dizziness and stomach pain, and that she had appeared in court in a wheelchair. 

"She said when I visited her (last week): 'If they give me a heavy sentence then I will refuse food until the very end.'... She thinks she will die in prison," Ren said before the trial. 

"It's an extreme method of protesting against this society and this environment." 

China's communist authorities have a history of putting dissidents on trial in opaque courts between Christmas and New Year in an effort to minimise Western scrutiny. 

Example made

The sentencing comes just weeks before an international team of World Health Organization experts is expected to arrive in China to investigate the origins of Covid-19. 

Zhang was critical of the early response in Wuhan, writing in a February essay that the government "didn't give people enough information, then simply locked down the city". 

"This is a great violation of human rights," she wrote. 

Rights groups and embassies have also drawn attention to her case, although diplomats from several countries were denied requests to monitor the hearing. 

"Zhang Zhan's case raises serious concerns about media freedom in China," the British embassy in Beijing said, urging "China to release all those detained for their reporting." 

Authorities "want to use her case as an example to scare off other dissidents from raising questions about the pandemic situation in Wuhan earlier this year", added Leo Lan, research and advocacy consultant at the Chinese Human Rights Defenders NGO. 

A United Nations official following the trial also expressed "deep concern" about the verdict. 

"We raised her case with the authorities throughout 2020 as an example of the excessive clampdown on freedom of expression linked to #COVID19 & continue to call for her release," the office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said in a tweet. 

Zhang is the first of a group of four citizen journalists detained by authorities after reporting from Wuhan to face trial. 

Previous attempts by AFP to contact the other three -- Chen Qiushi, Fang Bin and Li Zehua -- were unsuccessful. 

Related Article:

(>13.46 Min - Reference to the Global Coronavirus crisis)

Indonesia minister arrested over pandemic aid corruption

Yahoo –AFP, December 6, 2020

Two Indonesian ministers have been arrested in recent weeks over
corruption allegations


Indonesia's social affairs minister was arrested Sunday for allegedly taking $1.2 million in bribes linked to food aid for those hit by the coronavirus pandemic.
 

Juliari Batubara was named as a suspect after Indonesian anti-corruption agents seized suitcases, backpacks and envelopes stuffed with cash equivalent to $1.2 million in a sting operation on Saturday. 

He turned himself in on Sunday at the anti-corruption agency's headquarters, becoming the second minister in President Joko Widodo's government to be arrested over alleged graft in recent weeks. 

"That's the people's money... it's aid urgently needed to help during Covid-19 and for the national economic recovery," Widodo said after Batubara's arrest, vowing he would not protect any corrupt officials. 

Indonesia's economy -- Southeast Asia's biggest -- has been hit hard by the pandemic, and the government has rolled out aid programmes such as food packages to help those in need. 

Batubara has been accused of involvement in a bribery scheme linked to one such aid project. 

Officials have alleged that he received more than $1 million from two contractors that were appointed to supply basic food packages for people affected by the pandemic. 

For each package, Batubara would receive 10,000 rupiah, or $0.71, officials alleged. 

If found guilty, he could face up to 20 years in prison and a fine of one billion rupiah ($70,000).

Citigroup names Jane Fraser as first woman CEO

rfi.fr – AFP, 10/09/2020

Citigroup named Jane Fraser as its next CEO, replacing Michael Corbat who
will retire in February Julian R. Photography/AFP

New York (AFP) - Citigroup named Jane Fraser as its next chief executive on Thursday, tapping a woman to lead a giant Wall Street bank for the first time.

She will take over the top job in February, replacing Michael Corbat who will retire.

Fraser, who has served as president and CEO of global consumer banking since 2019, will join the board of directors immediately, the bank said. She has held prior roles for Citi in Latin America and in investment banking.

"I am honored by the Board's decision and grateful to Mike for his leadership and support," Fraser said in a press release.

"Our balance sheet is strong and our commitment to serving our clients and communities is even stronger. I will do everything I can to make all our stakeholders proud of our firm as we continue to build a better bank and improve our returns."

The move comes as Citi pivots to a more challenging operating environment as large banks set aside billions of dollars to prepare for bad loans due to the coronavirus.

Other women have become CEOs of big financial companies or in related industries, such as Abigail Johnson at Fidelity Investments and Julie Sweet at Accenture. But in taking the helm of the fourth-biggest US bank by assets, Fraser joins a group of Wall Street CEOs that until now has been exclusively led by white men.

Her appointment to the top job had been telegraphed from her prior promotion in October 2019 to president and head of global consumer banking. Senior women at JPMorgan Chase are also in line to potentially take the top job to succeed Jamie Dimon, who is expected to retire in the coming years.

Corporate America is also under scrutiny over the paltry number of Black leaders in the wake of massive racial justice protests this year.

Industry faces headwinds

After stumbling badly during the subprime mortgage crisis, Citigroup recovered in the ensuing decade after the 2008 financial crisis.

From 2012 to 2019, the banking giant saw net income rise from $7 billion to $20 billion, Corbat said in the press release.

"We went from returning hardly any capital to returning nearly $80 billion in capital to our shareholders over the last six years," he said.

The improvement coincided with a post-2008 US economic expansion that ended abruptly with the coronavirus outbreak.

In the most recent quarter, Citigroup added $5.6 billion in reserves for bad loans, a factor in a 73 percent drop in profits to $1.3 billion. Large banks are also staring at a lengthy period of low interest rates, putting a damper on another source of profits.

"The pandemic has a grip on the economy and it doesn't seem likely to loosen until vaccines are widely available," Corbat said on a conference call with analysts.

The Scottish-born Fraser joined Citi in 2004 after earlier roles at Goldman Sachs and McKinsey & Company. She has spoken openly about being a working mother in finance, recounting in 2016 how she worked part-time at McKinsey.

Having children "humanized me," Fraser said in the 2016 appearance at the Americas Society. "There is nothing like having children to help you understand where your priorities are."

Fraser also recounted her sometimes unorthodox career moves, such as exiting as head of the private bank in London in 2013 to oversee a turnaround of the mortgage business from St. Louis, Missouri in the midwest of the United States.

"Everyone thought I was completely nuts," she said. "I knew I would grow. I knew I would a learn a completely different skill set."

Shares of Citigroup were flat at $51.41 in late-morning trading.

Indonesian transportation minister tests positive for COVID-19

The Jakarta Post, March 14, 2020

Transportation Minister Budi Karya Sumadi (center) walks at Kertajati International
Airport in Majalengka, West Java, on March 1. The minister tested positive of
COVID-19, State Secretary Pratikno announced on Saturday evening. (Antara/
Dedhez Anggara)

Transportation Minister Budi Karya Sumadi has tested positive for COVID-19.

State Secretary Pratikno announced on Saturday evening that Budi was identified as Case 76 in a previous Health Ministry announcement and was being treated at the Gatot Subroto Army Hospital.

He declined to say when Budi had been admitted to the hospital or when he had likely been infected.

Budi reportedly attended a Cabinet meeting on Wednesday.

Pratikno said President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo had appointed Coordinating Maritime Affairs and Investment Minister Luhut Pandjaitan as ad interim transportation minister.

Gatot Subroto Army Hospital doctors said Budi’s condition was improving.