Chinese SARS whistleblower Jiang Yanyong dies at 91

Military surgeon Jiang Yanyong is seen in a hotel room in Beijing on Feb. 9, 2004. (AP)
Military surgeon Jiang Yanyong is seen in a hotel room in Beijing on Feb. 9, 2004. (AP)
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Updated 15 March 2023

Chinese SARS whistleblower Jiang Yanyong dies at 91

Military surgeon Jiang Yanyong is seen in a hotel room in Beijing on Feb. 9, 2004. (AP)
  • Jiang emailed the letter to state broadcaster CCTV and Hong Kong’s Beijing-friendly Phoenix Channel, both of which ignored it

BEIJING: Jiang Yanyong, a Chinese military doctor who revealed the full extent of the 2003 SARS outbreak and was later placed under house arrest for his political outspokenness, has died, a long-time acquaintance and a Hong Kong newspaper said Tuesday.
Jiang was 91 and died of pneumonia Saturday in Beijing, according to human rights activist Hu Jia and the South China Morning Post.
News of Jiang’s death and even his name were censored within China, underscoring how he remained a politically sensitive figure even late in life.
Jiang had been chief surgeon at the People’s Liberation Army’s main 301 hospital in Beijing when the army fought its way through the city to end weeks of student-led pro-democracy protests centered on Tiananmen Square, causing the deaths of hundreds — possibly thousands — of civilians.
In April 2003, as the ruling Communist Party was suppressing news about the outbreak of the highly contagious Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, Jiang wrote an 800-word letter stating there were many more SARS cases than were being officially reported by the country’s health minister.
Jiang emailed the letter to state broadcaster CCTV and Hong Kong’s Beijing-friendly Phoenix Channel, both of which ignored it. The letter was then leaked to Western media outlets that published it in its entirety, along with reports on the true extent of the outbreak and official Chinese efforts to hide it.
The letter, along with the death of a Finnish United Nations employee and statements by renowned physician Zhong Nanshan, forced the lifting of government suppression, leading to the resignations of both the health minister and Beijing’s mayor. Strict containment measures were imposed virtually overnight, helping to restrain the spread of the virus that had already begun appearing overseas.
In all, more than 8,000 people from 29 countries and territories were infected with SARS, resulting in at least 774 deaths.
“Jiang had the conscience of a doctor to people the patients first. He saved so many lives with that letter, without thought for the consequences,” Hu told The Associated Press.
Chinese authorities later sought to block media access to Jiang, who retired with the rank of major general. He turned down an interview with The Associated Press, saying he had been unable to obtain the necessary permission from the Ministry of Defense.
From 2004, Jiang and his wife were periodically placed under house arrest for appealing to Communist leaders for a re-evaluation of the 1989 protests that remains a taboo topic. That recalled Jiang’s earlier experiences when he was persecuted as a rightist under Mao Zedong during the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s.
In 2004, Jiang was awarded the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Public Service from the Philippines, considered by some an Asian version of the Nobel Peace Prize. In the citation, he was praised for having broken “China’s habit of silence and forced the truth of SARS into the open.”
Jiang was prevented from leaving the country and the award was collected by his daughter on his behalf.
Three years later, he won the Heinz R. Pagels Human Rights of Scientists Award given by the New York Academy of Sciences, but was again blocked from traveling.
Echoes of Jiang’s experience were heard in China’s approach to the initial outbreak of COVID-19, first detected in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in late 2019.
A Wuhan eye doctor, Li Wenliang, was detained and threatened by police for allegedly spreading rumors on social media following an attempt to alert others about a “SARS-like” virus. Li’s death on Feb. 7, 2020, sparked widespread outrage against the Chinese censorship system. Users posted criticism for hours before censors moved to delete posts.
Sympathy and the outpouring of anger of the treatment of Li and other whistleblowers prompted the government to change course and declare him and 13 others martyrs.
COVID-19 has killed almost 7 million people worldwide, including an estimated 1.5 million in China, whose government has been accused of massively undercounting the true number of deaths.
Jiang is survived by his wife, Hua Zhongwei, a son and a daughter, according to the South China Morning Post.


Prince Harry makes surprise showing at UK privacy case

Prince Harry makes surprise showing at UK privacy case
Updated 39 sec ago

Prince Harry makes surprise showing at UK privacy case

Prince Harry makes surprise showing at UK privacy case
  • Others taking part in the legal action include Elton John, Liz Hurley and Sadie Frost

LONDON: Britain’s Prince Harry on Monday made an unexpected appearance at London’s high court for a hearing in a privacy claim launched by celebrities and other figures against a newspaper publisher.
The publisher of the Daily Mail, Associated Newspapers (ANL), is trying to end the high court claims brought by high-profile figures including Harry and singer Elton John over alleged unlawful activity at its titles.
Harry, who now lives in California after quitting royal duties in 2019 and launching a barrage of criticism of the British royal family, was pictured arriving at the court in central London.
Others taking part in the legal action include actresses Liz Hurley and Sadie Frost as well as John’s husband David Furnish, Doreen Lawrence — the mother of murder victim Stephen Lawrence — and former Liberal Democrat deputy leader Simon Hughes.
Lawyers for the group told the court the publisher of the Daily Mail commissioned the breaking and entry into private property, illegally intercepted voicemail messages and obtained medical records.
“The claimants each claim that in different ways they were the victim of numerous unlawful acts carried out by the defendant, or by those acting on the instructions of its newspapers, The Daily Mail and The Mail On Sunday,” lawyer David Sherborne said in written submissions to the court.
The alleged unlawful included “illegally intercepting voicemail messages, listening into live landline calls, obtaining private information, such as itemised phone bills or medical records, by deception..., using private investigators to commit these unlawful information gathering acts on their behalf and even commissioning the breaking and entry into private property,” Sherborne said.
The alleged wrongdoing dates from 1993-2011, but some went on as late as 2018, he added.
Harry, also known as the Duke of Sussex, sat near the back of the court, two seats away from fellow complainant Frost.
ANL has described the allegations as “preposterous smears” and a “pre-planned and orchestrated attempt to drag the Mail titles into the phone-hacking scandal.”
Britain’s phone hacking scandal, which first blew up in 2006, saw journalists at the Rupert Murdoch-owned News of the World hack into the voicemails of royals, celebrities and murder victims.
It triggered the closure of the mass-selling Sunday tabloid, a mammoth police investigation, a judge-led inquiry and criminal charges that gripped Britain for years.

A spokesperson for ANL also said the allegations were “unsubstantiated and highly defamatory claims, based on no credible evidence.”
A four four-day preliminary hearing is being held at the high court with ANL arguing that the allegations are “stale” and should be dismissed without a trial.
Harry, the younger son of Britain’s King Charles III, has long had a difficult relationship with the media.
His mother Princess Diana died in a car crash in Paris in 1997 after she and her companion, Dodi Fayed, left the Ritz Hotel pursued by paparazzi photographers.
In 2019 while on a tour of South Africa with his wife Meghan, Harry linked media intrusion to Diana’s death and spoke of his fears of history repeating itself.
“I will not be bullied into playing a game that killed my mum,” he told television journalist Tom Bradby, accusing sections of the media of waging a “ruthless campaign” against Meghan.
“Everything that she (Diana) went through, and what happened to her, is incredibly important every single day, and that is not me being paranoid, that is just me not wanting a repeat of the past,” he said.
Both Harry and Meghan have been involved in other recent legal action targeting British newspapers.
The couple, whose popularity ratings have plummeted, have dominated headlines in the past few years due to a string of interviews, a Netflix series and Harry’s autobiography “Spare” in which they complained bitterly about their treatment as working members of the royal family.
Buckingham Palace has not responded to the claims, while the late Queen Elizabeth II famously commented that “recollections may vary.”

It’s no joke: club helps Jordanians win comedy gold

It’s no joke: club helps Jordanians win comedy gold
Updated 27 March 2023

It’s no joke: club helps Jordanians win comedy gold

It’s no joke: club helps Jordanians win comedy gold
  • Since its 2019 inception, Amman Comedy Club has trained people in stand-up comedy, sketch shows, satirical writing

AMMAN: When life gave them lemons, two Jordanians launched a club to train people in the art of comedy in a country where years of economic woes have left little to laugh about.

Since being founded in 2019, the Amman Comedy Club has been training aspiring comics, offering free, three- to four-month workshops in stand-up, improv, comedy sketches and satire writing.

Aided by foreign institutions such as the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, and with the help of Chicago-based comedy club The Second City, the club has already trained more than 140 people.

The new comedians hoping to put a smile on Jordanian faces range in age between 18 to 40 and include students, doctors and lawyers among others, keen to learn the art of comic timing and delivery.

“Comedy is a message, and our message is to make people laugh,” said Moeen Masoud, one of the club’s co-founders. “If you come to this place and spend two hours laughing and forget about your problems and worries, this means I have fulfilled my message.”

It is part of the founders’ broader social mission. “In our daily lives, we face a lot of economic, social and psychological pressures, and the best way to relieve these worries is to laugh,” the other co-founder Yazan Abu Al-Rous added.

Jordan’s deep economic difficulties were exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. According to official figures, unemployment rose in 2021 to about 25 percent — and up to 50 percent among young people.

With public debt exceeding $47 billion, or more than 106 percent of the gross domestic product, the poverty rate also increased to an unprecedented 24 percent that year.

Shining a light on social issues through comedy could also help the country as societies need criticism “in order to grow and be able to fix their defects,” added Abu Al-Rous.

Masoud lamented that “comedy did not get the attention it deserves in Jordan.” “We have great ambitions, beyond Jordan. We aspire to have a tour in the Arab world and the wider world for Jordanian comedians and hope to train many people around the world.”

The duo has also spearheaded efforts to dispel one lingering notion about their compatriots.

“There is a stereotype that Jordanians do not laugh,” said Abu Al-Rous, who has a master’s degree in business administration.

“We at ACC wanted to challenge this idea and prove the opposite to the world, that we love laughter and jokes.”

So far, the club graduates have performed shows across Jordan and are also training students at private schools in stand-up comedy.

The club also runs psychological support courses for children in areas that host Syrian refugees.

Among the club’s graduates are now well-known comedians, who have amassed hundreds of thousands of followers on social media and perform weekly shows in Amman.

Graduate Abdullah Sobeih, 25, said his training taught him “how to choose topics that affect people’s lives, how a comic story is built.”

With over 340,000 followers on Instagram, the business graduate hopes his new career can help fellow Jordanians “make them forget their worries.”

“We know that people suffer from problems and pressures ... we are trying to bring them to this place in order to offer some relief,” Sobeih said.

He is among four of the club’s better-known alumni, alongside Kamal Sailos, Abdulrahman Mamdouh, and Yusef Bataineh, who are slowly establishing themselves as household names in Jordan.

In the 350-seat Al-Shams Theatre, the trio perform separate stand-ups to an audience of mostly young men and women.

“Our country is the only country in the world that when you google its name the results would show Michael Jordan,” said Yusef Bataineh to roars of laughter at the comparison of the Hashemite kingdom with the legendary US basketball player

What time is it in Lebanon? Depends on who you ask...

What time is it in Lebanon? Depends on who you ask...
Updated 26 March 2023

What time is it in Lebanon? Depends on who you ask...

What time is it in Lebanon? Depends on who you ask...
  • Caretaker PM Najib Mikati postponed decision to April 20
  • Religious bodies, parties, business, media vent frustration

LONDON: The Lebanese government’s decision to delay the start of daylight saving by a month has further divided the nation already crippled by medicine shortages, a severe financial crisis and rising corruption cases.

The decision on Thursday by caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati, to “exceptionally” postpone daylight saving to midnight on April 20 instead of March 25 has sparked dispute, with several politicians, businesses, citizens and even media outlets refusing to comply with the delay.

Gebran Bassil, leader of the Free Patriotic Movement, said in a tweet that the move was “not acceptable” and “carries obvious messages,” calling for appeals against it.

Leaked footage of a conversation between Mikati and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri prompted many to take to social media to either support or denounce the decision, at times using sectarian rhetoric.

In the video, which shows the two officials discussing daylight saving, Berri suggests that instead of shifting fast-breaking time to 7 p.m., it should remain at 6 p.m. “until the end of Ramadan.”

“This matter goes beyond daylight saving. It is an existential issue for us; the Christians of the East,” one Twitter user wrote.

Another person said he has already advanced his clocks “so that Lebanon continues to resemble us and every patriot, whether Christian or Muslim.”

Others found this an occasion for dark humor. Lebanese journalist Jad Ghosn tweeted: “Starting tomorrow, appointments should be (scheduled) according to either LBC or NBN,” in reference to the two Lebanese TV channels, one of which is Christian-run while the other is owned by the Berri family.

“Unbelievable!” he concluded.

An Instagram user suggested that now in Lebanon, instead of asking "What time is it?", people will be asking "What is your religion?".

LBCI was not the only media outlet to reject the government’s decision. OTV, a newscaster launched by Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun, also announced that it would not abide by Mikati’s decision and, instead, would advance its lock an hour at midnight.

Describing the government’s decision as “last-minute” and “absolutely unprepared,” L’Orient-Le Jour and L’Orient Today said in a statement it would not be possible to amend its schedule at short notice.

The Lebanese news platform, which describes itself as independent, said its decision was not only driven by technical challenges but also by political aspects. “We refuse … to waste time and energy to implement a decision taken with revolting levity and negligence, by political leaders totally disconnected from the reality of the country,” the statement read.

The country’s flagship air carrier Middle East Airlines issued a statement highlighting that to ensure smooth traffic from March 26 to April 20, “departure timings of all flights departing from Rafic Hariri International Airport – Beirut would be shifted by one hour earlier during this period.” Also, the timetable for “inbound flights from foreign airports” would “remain the same without any modification, according to the local time in the country of departure.”

Several businesses in the hospitality sector, such as Centrale Restaurant in Beirut, confirmed on their social media accounts that they would switch to daylight saving time.

Religious and educational institutions were also among those refusing to comply with the decision. The Maronite Catholic Archeparchy of Antelias announced in a statement it would observe daylight saving time while scheduling masses and prayers.

College Notre-Dame de Jamhour stated on social media that it would follow universal time.

Daylight Saving Time starts in mid- or late-March in many parts of the world. This year it coincided with the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which started on the evening of Wednesday March 22 in most Middle East nations.

Actor Jonathan Majors arrested on assault charge in New York

Actor Jonathan Majors arrested on assault charge in New York
Updated 26 March 2023

Actor Jonathan Majors arrested on assault charge in New York

Actor Jonathan Majors arrested on assault charge in New York
  • The star of the recently released “Creed III” and “Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quantumania,” was involved in a domestic dispute with a 30-year-old woman: NYPD

NEW YORK: The actor Jonathan Majors was arrested Saturday in New York on charges of strangulation, assault and harassment, authorities said.
New York City police said that Majors, star of the recently released “Creed III” and “Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quantumania,” was involved in a domestic dispute with a 30-year-old woman. Police responded around 11 a.m. to a 911 call inside an apartment in the Manhattan neighborhood of Chelsea.
“The victim informed police she was assaulted,” a spokesperson for the NYPD said in a statement. “Officers placed the 33-year-old male into custody without incident. The victim sustained minor injuries to her head and neck and was removed to an area hospital in stable condition.”
He was no longer in police custody as of Saturday night, the NYPD spokesperson confirmed to The Associated Press.
A representative for Major denied any wrongdoing by the actor.
“He has done nothing wrong,” said the representative in an email to the AP Saturday. “We look forward to clearing his name and clearing this up.”
Majors is one of the fastest rising stars in Hollywood. After breaking through in 2019’s “The Last Black Man in San Francisco,” Majors has starred in “Da 5 Bloods,” “The Harder They Fall” and last year’s “Devotion.” He also stars in the recent Sundance Film Festival entry “Magazine Dreams,” which Searchlight Pictures is to release in December.



Large asteroid to zoom between Earth and Moon

Large asteroid to zoom between Earth and Moon
Updated 25 March 2023

Large asteroid to zoom between Earth and Moon

Large asteroid to zoom between Earth and Moon
  • An observatory in La Palma, one of Spain’s Canary Islands, first spotted the asteroid on February 27
  • The asteroid will again swing past Earth in 2026

PARIS: A large asteroid will safely zoom between Earth and the Moon on Saturday, a once-in-a-decade event that will be used as a training exercise for planetary defense efforts, according to the European Space Agency.
The asteroid, named 2023 DZ2, is estimated to be 40 to 70 meters wide, roughly the size of the Parthenon, and big enough to wipe out a large city if it hit our planet.
At 19:49 GMT on Saturday it will come within a third of the distance from the Earth to the Moon, said Richard Moissl, the head of the ESA’s planetary defense office.
Though that is “very close,” there is nothing to worry about, he told AFP.
Small asteroids fly past every day, but one of this size coming so close to Earth only happens around once every 10 years, he added.
The asteroid will pass 175,000 kilometers from Earth at a speed of 28,000 kilometers per hour. The moon is roughly 385,000 kilometers away.
An observatory in La Palma, one of Spain’s Canary Islands, first spotted the asteroid on February 27.
Last week, the UN-endorsed International Asteroid Warning Network decided it would take advantage of the close look, carrying out a “rapid characterization” of 2023 DZ2, Moissl said.
That means astronomers around the world will analyze the asteroid with a range of instruments such as spectrometers and radars.
The goal is to find out just how much we can learn about such an asteroid in only a week, Moissl said.
It will also serve as training for how the network “would react to a threat” possibly heading our way in the future, he added.
Moissl said preliminary data suggests 2023 DZ2 is “a scientifically interesting object,” indicating it could be a somewhat unusual type of asteroid. But he added that more data was needed to determine the asteroid’s composition.
The asteroid will again swing past Earth in 2026, but poses no threat of impact for at least the next 100 years — which is how far out its trajectory has been calculated.
Earlier this month a similarly sized asteroid, 2023 DW, was briefly given a one-in-432 chance of hitting Earth on Valentine’s Day 2046.
But further calculations ruled out any chance of an impact, which is what normally happens with newly discovered asteroids. Moissl said 2023 DW was now expected to miss Earth by some 4.3 million kilometers.
Even if such an asteroid was determined to be heading our way, Earth is no longer defenseless.
Last year, NASA’s DART spacecraft deliberately slammed into the pyramid-sized asteroid Dimorphos, significantly knocking it off course in the first such test of our planetary defenses.