Category Archives: Integrity – Ethical

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. 

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

Shoveled: Garuda Boss Fired for Smuggling Harley Davidson Bike and Brompton Bicycles

Jakarta Globe, NUR YASMIN, December 5, 2019

The disassembled parts of a smuggled Harley Davidson Shovelhead are shown 
by customs officials in Jakarta on Thursday. (B1 TV Photo)

Jakarta. Flag carrier Garuda Indonesia's president director I Gusti Ngurah Ashkara is soon to be fired for allegedly smuggling a Harley Davidson motorcycle and two Brompton bicycles, State-Owned Enterprises Minister Erick Thohir said on Thursday.

The items were smuggled inside Garuda's brand new Airbus A330-900 Neo being delivered from its factory in Toulouse, France, in mid-November.

There were 22 passengers on the plane and four of them were Garuda directors: the president director, better known as Ari Ashkara, technical and services director Iwan Joeniarto, cargo and business development director Mohammas Iqbal and human resources director Heri Akhyar.

"As the SOE Minister, I will dismiss the Garuda president director. We will not stop there; we will look for other people who might have been involved in this case as well," Erick told a press conference in Jakarta.

The used Harley Davidson motorcycle had been disassembled prior to delivery and smuggled as parts. Customs officials found them wrapped in 15 boxes inside the plane's cargo area.

The Brompton bikes and accessories were found in three other boxes.

Erick said an audit by the customs office showed the smuggled items belonged to the president director, despite the baggage claim tags carrying different names.

Ari had instructed his subordinates to find him a classic Harley Davidson Shovelhead from the 1970s.

The used motorcycle was purchased in April 2019 with the help of a Garuda finance manager in Amsterdam.

"It's really sad that this [personal] transaction had to drag down an SOE," Erick said.

The Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs and Investment Luhur Binsar Pandjaitan said during a visit to Tongxiang, China, on Thursday that he fully supported Erick's decision.

"[An act like] this will hurt our investment climate," he said.

Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati meanwhile said smuggling the Harley and the Bromptons had cost the country up to Rp 1.5 billion ($107,000) in unpaid taxes.

"The Harley bike is valued at Rp 800 million and the Brompton bicycles cost Rp 50-60 million each," Sri Mulyani said.

"Everyone should always obey existing regulations," she told reporters.

After the Indonesian tsunami: Cashing in on the dead

The devastating tsunami has shattered the lives of thousands of people. More than 400 families have lost members — and in the hospitals, of all places, people have been cashing in on the survivors' suffering.

Deutsche Welle, 2 January 2019

A hearse in front of a hospital in Indonesia (DW/J. Küng)

When the relatives of the tsunami victims come to collect the mortal remains of their loved ones from Serang District Hospital in the province of Banten, around 150 kilometers from Java's ravaged coastal region, they are in a state of shock. Jackson Sinaga from Jakarta is one of them. He lost his nine-month-old son to the floodwaters, triggered by the collapse of the Anak Krakatoa volcano just before Christmas. "Satria was fast asleep in a rented villa on Carita Beach when the tsunami crashed through the building," he says. "It happened so fast — I didn't have time to save my little boy."

Traumatized and plagued by feelings of guilt, Jackson has come to collect the boy's lifeless body from the hospital in Serang. However, instead of being met with sympathy, the 29-year-old father is presented with a hefty bill. He's told he has to pay 800,000 rupiah (€50, $55) which he owes for the transport of the body. "In cash," the forensics department employee adds. That's a lot of money in a country where the average monthly wage is less than €240. Jackson, however, is not capable of thinking rationally, and hands over the money.

Family members of the victims are being ripped off

Three more victims' families meet outside the building. They've also been told they owe money — around four million rupiah. This despite the fact that Indonesia's Ministry of Health is paying all costs resulting from the tsunami disaster, in full, with money from the government's coffers. A debate ensues among the relatives of the dead. One of the people who've been swindled collects the receipts and promises to take them to the local authorities.

Receipts issued on forged letterhead

DW confronts the hospital with the accusations, and is invited to speak to its deputy director, Rahmat Fitriadi. When asked if the hospital knew about the illegal takings, Fitriadi bursts into tears. "Neither the management nor our doctors have charged for any services. We have nothing to do with these schemes," says Fitriadi, sobbing. The official letterhead on the receipts is forged, he continues, dabbing the tears from his eyes. "This is a tragedy for our hospital. I hope this scandal doesn't damage our reputation. We support the authorities' investigation and are providing them with all available information."

Fitradi says his hospital has nothing to do with the scam

Investigators from the provincial police in Banten interrogate doctors, forensic scientists and hospital personnel — and open a can of worms. It seem that at least 15 million rupiah have vanished into the pockets of hospital employees. So far, six of the families cheated have been identified. A forensic department employee and two people working with the emergency services have been arrested on suspicion of corruption. The authorities' investigation is ongoing.

Long jail sentences

It's nothing new in Indonesia for workers in public institutions to demand backhanders or issue illegal invoices. Traffic departments will only issue driving licenses within a reasonable time if you make an "extra payment." Teachers at public schools can be bribed to give out the answers to exam questions. President Joko Widodo has repeatedly promised to clamp down on rampant corruption. What is new is people cashing in on the misery of tsunami victims. If those accused are convicted, they could be facing life sentences; they'll certainly go to prison for at least four years.

Right now, though, for Jackson Sinaga, the arrests are of little interest. "I just hope that no more surviving relatives are swindled and met with such lack of empathy," he says. The Sinaga family has certainly lost all confidence in Serang District Hospital. Jackson's brother and sister, who were also badly injured in the tsunami, are no longer being treated at Serang, but at a hospital in Jakarta.

Lap of luxury: Indonesian jailers busted over fancy cells

Yahoo – AFP, 23 July 2018

Outside authorities found several cells that featured modern bathrooms with hot
showers, full-sized refrigerators, coffee makers, microwave ovens and stereo loudspeakers

Inmates at an Indonesian prison paid for luxury cells equipped with air conditioning, flat-screen TVs and private washrooms, anti-graft officials said, in the graft-riddled country's latest corruption scandal.

Jail staff allegedly took bribes of 200-500 million rupiah ($14,000-$35,000) from inmates to renovate cells and supply banned mobile phones or even let them temporarily leave prison, Indonesia's Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) said.

Anti-graft agents arrested five people connected to the scandal at Sukamiskin prison, including inmates and the warden who got cash and a pair of vehicles to look the other way, it added.

A raid on Sunday turned up several cells that featured modern bathrooms with hot showers, full-sized refrigerators, coffee makers, microwave ovens and stereo loudspeakers, the KPK said.

"We apologise to the Indonesian people," Sri Puguh Budi Utami, the director general of Indonesia's prisons, told reporters late Sunday.

"We're very sorry that we still have not been able to maximise our monitoring systems."

A former tax official now serving time at Sukamiskin was once photographed watching a tennis tournament in Bali and had even travelled overseas on a fake passport when he was supposed to be in another jail.

Jail staff allegedly took bribes of 200-500 million rupiah ($14,000-$35,000) from
 inmates to renovate cells and supply banned mobile phones or even let them 
temporarily leave prison

The prison's other inmates include a former chief justice and ex-house speaker Setya Novanto, who was convicted in April of taking millions of dollars in kickbacks and bribes linked to the national roll-out of government ID cards.

They were not among the inmates or prison staff arrested Sunday.

Indonesian prisons are more commonly known for their poor conditions and outbreaks of violence.

But it is an open secret that the rich and powerful can buy luxury on the inside, prompting the government to warn last year that it would jail guards or other staff caught taking bribes from inmates in exchange for special treatment.

In one of the highest-profile cases, a businesswoman imprisoned for bribery had a cell with a spring mattress, couch, refrigerator, television and air conditioning -- and adjoining karaoke room.

Malaysia’s Mahathir wins shock election victory, toppling 61-yr-old regime

Yahoo – AFP, Martin Abbugao, May 9, 2018

As it became clear that Mahathir had won, supporters took to the streets
waving flags of the opposition alliance (AFP Photo/Mohd RASFAN)

Malaysia's veteran ex-leader Mahathir Mohamad, 92, won a shock election victory Thursday, in a political earthquake that toppled the country's scandal-plagued premier and ousted a regime that has ruled for over six decades.

It was a stunning triumph that almost no one had predicted and ended the long hold on power of the Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition, which has ruled Malaysia since its birth as an independent country.

The victory capped a dramatic political comeback for Mahathir, who previously ruled the country with an iron fist for 22 years, and came out of retirement to taken on Prime Minister Najib Razak after the leader became embroiled in a massive corruption scandal.

When he takes power, Mahathir will be the oldest prime minister in the world.

His victory spells big trouble for Najib -- Mahathir has vowed to bring him to justice over allegations that billions of dollars were looted from sovereign wealth fund 1MDB, which the scandal-plagued leader set up and oversaw.

But at a press conference, Mahathir vowed: "We are not seeking revenge. We want to restore the rule of law."

Mahathir's return to the political frontlines saw him throw in his lot with an opposition alliance filled with parties that he crushed while in power, and which includes jailed opposition icon Anwar Ibrahim -- his former nemesis.

When he takes power, Mahathir Mohamad, 92, will be the oldest prime minister
in the world (AFP Photo/Manan VATSYAYANA)

As well as seizing control of the national government, several state legislatures across the country fell into opposition hands for the first time, including the highly symbolic bastion of Johor, the birthplace of Najib's party that was the lynchpin of the ruling coalition.

Official results from the Election Commission showed that Mahathir's opposition grouping Pakatan Harapan, along with an ally in the Borneo state of Sabah, had secured 115 parliamentary seats. 112 are needed to form a government. BN were on 79 seats with just a few left to count.

As it became clear that Mahathir had won, supporters took to the streets waving flags of the opposition alliance.

After polls closed earlier in the day, journalists had flocked to the headquarters of Najib's United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), the lynchpin in the ruling coalition -- but he failed to turn up to give a victory speech and the media were told to leave.

Huge numbers of voters earlier flocked to the polls across the country, despite Najib having called the election on a weekday in what critics said was a bid to keep turnout down.

The BN wipeout is a disaster for Najib, who had been under pressure to score an emphatic win after the government lost the popular vote for the first time at the last elections in 2013.

The controversy surrounding 1MDB has dogged Najib since the story exploded in 2015. Billions of dollars were allegedly stolen from the fund, which was set up and overseen by Najib. The leader and 1MDB deny any wrongdoing.

But in rural areas, the rising cost of living, which has hit poor Malays hard, was the main concern at the election particularly after the introduction of an unpopular sales tax in 2015.


We Built a Strong Case Against Setya Novanto: KPK

Jakarta Globe, Alin Almanar, December 11, 2017

Setya Novanto has been charged with embezzling Rp 574 billion ($42 million).
(Antara Photo/Aprillio Akbar)

Jakarta.Antigraft officials said investigators had built a strong case against Setya Novanto, as they countered arguments by expert witnesses during a hearing on Monday (11/12).

Setya has filed again a pretrial motion with the South Jakarta District Court to clear him as a graft suspect. The same court ruled in late September that naming Setya as a suspect in July was "procedurally flawed" and the charges were invalid.

Three witnesses brought by Setya's lawyers to the court on Monday questioned the validity of evidence against him.

One of the witnesses, Mudzakir, a criminal law expert at the Islamic University of Indonesia (UII) in Yogyakarta, said the evidence against the former House of Representatives speaker was invalidated by the ruling.

According to him, the move to charge Setya again in late October was therefore based on "outdated evidence."

"It's similar to opening again an investigation that has been halted. If there's no new evidence, it can't be reopened," he said.

But a Constitutional Court ruling issued this year, cited by antigraft officials during the hearing, allows investigators to rely on evidence that was used against a suspect who has won a pretrial motion.

"A pretrial verdict shouldn't hamper investigators' efforts to handle a case," said Evi Laila Kholis, a member of the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) legal bureau.

The evidence against Setya had also been "complemented," KPK officials said.

In the next days, the KPK is going to bring five witnesses to the South Jakarta District Court, whose ruling is expected on Thursday.

Setya has been charged with embezzling Rp 574 billion ($42 million) from the Rp 5.9 trillion procurement of national electronic identity cards (e-KTP) project. He can face 20 years in jail, if found guilty.

The graft case resulted in Rp 2.3 trillion state losses.

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