The former chairman of a state-owned real estate company who publicly criticised President Xi Jinping’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic was sentenced to 18 years in prison on Tuesday on corruption charges, a court announced.
Ren Zhiqiang, who became known for speaking up about censorship and other sensitive topics, disappeared from public view in March after publishing an essay online that accused Xi of mishandling the outbreak that began in December in Wuhan.
Xi, party leader since 2012, has suppressed criticism, tightened censorship and cracked down on unofficial organisations, reports AP.
Dozens of journalists, labour and human rights activists and others have been imprisoned.
Ren, 69, was convicted of corruption, bribery, embezzlement of public funds and abuse of power, the Beijing No. 2 Intermediate People’s Court announced on its social media account.
It cited Ren as saying he wouldn’t appeal.
The former chairman and deputy party secretary of Huayuan Group was expelled from the ruling party in July.
In a commentary that circulated on social media, Ren criticised a February 23 video conference with 170,000 officials held early in the pandemic at which Xi announced orders for responding to the disease.
Ren didn’t mention Xi’s name but said, “standing there was not an emperor showing off his new clothes but a clown who had stripped off his clothes and insisted on being an emperor.”
Ren criticised propaganda that portrayed Xi and other leaders as rescuing China from the disease without mentioning where it began and possible mistakes including suppressing information at the start of the outbreak.
“People did not see any criticism at the conference. It didn’t investigate and disclose the truth,” Ren wrote, according to a copy published by China Digital Times, a website in California. “No one reviewed or took responsibility. But they are trying to cover up the truth with all kinds of great achievements.”
Ren had an early military career and his parents were both former high officials in the Communist party. Some called him a princeling, a term for offspring of the founders of the communist government, a group that includes Xi.
He appeared to have crossed a political line by criticising Xi’s personal leadership.
Britain's chief medical officers (CMOs) have recommended moving the country's COVID-19 alert level from level 3 to level 4, according to a joint statement released on Monday.
Level 4 means COVID-19 epidemic is in general circulation, transmission is high or rising exponentially.
"The CMOs for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have reviewed the evidence and recommend all 4 nations of the UK should move to level 4," said the statement, reports Xinhua.
The recommendation was tabled at a time when countries such as Britain, China, Russia and the United States are racing against time to develop coronavirus vaccines.
After a period of lower COVID-19 cases and deaths, the number of cases are "now rising rapidly and probably exponentially in significant parts of all 4 nations", said the CMOs.
Britain recorded another 4,368 COVID-19 cases overnight on Monday, bringing the total to 398,625, according to latest official figures.
"If we are to avoid significant excess deaths and exceptional pressure in the NHS (National Health Service) and other health services over the autumn and winter, everyone has to follow the social distancing guidance, wear face coverings correctly and wash their hands regularly," said the CMOs.
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has urged the international community to work together to improve world governance.
The United Nations marked its 75th anniversary on Monday.
"National sovereignty – a pillar of the United Nations – goes hand-in-hand with enhanced international cooperation based on common values and shared responsibilities in pursuit of progress for all," the UN chief said at the UN General Assembly ceremony marking the 75th anniversary of the United Nations.
"No one wants a world government – but we must work together to improve world governance," he said.
Noting that "today we have a surplus of multilateral challenges and a deficit of multilateral solutions," the secretary-general said that "in an interconnected world, we need a networked multilateralism, in which the United Nations family, international financial institutions, regional organisations, trading blocs and others work together more closely and effectively.”
On the founding of the United Nations, Guterres said that "the ideals of the United Nations -- peace, justice, equality and dignity -- are beacons to a better world".
"The organisation we celebrate today emerged only after immense suffering," he said, reports Xinhua. "It took two world wars, millions of deaths and the horrors of the Holocaust for world leaders to commit to international cooperation and the rule of law."
Achievements of the UN
Speaking of the achievements of the United Nations, the UN chief said that commitment "produced results".
"A Third World War – which so many had feared – has been avoided. Never in modern history have we gone so many years without a military confrontation between the major powers," he said.
"This is a major achievement of which member states can be proud – and which we must all strive to preserve."
"Down the decades, there have been other historic accomplishments, including peace treaties and peacekeeping, decolonisation, human rights standards – and mechanisms to uphold them, the triumph over apartheid, life-saving humanitarian aid for millions of victims of conflict and disaster, the eradication of diseases, the steady reduction of hunger, the progressive development of international law, and landmark agreements to protect the environment and our planet," the UN chief elaborated.
"Most recently, unanimous agreement on the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change provide an inspiring vision for the 21st century," he noted.
Much to be done
However, Guterres underscored that there is still so much to be done.
"Of the 850 delegates to the San Francisco Conference, just eight were women. Twenty-five years since the Beijing Platform for Action, gender inequality remains the greatest single challenge to human rights around the world," he said.
As for the challenges ahead, the secretary-general said "we can only address them together."
WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Monday a total of 156 economies representing nearly two-thirds of the world's population have joined the COVAX Facility, reports Xinhua.
COVAX facility is an international initiative co-led by WHO and its partners International Vaccine Alliance Gavi and COVAX Advance Market Commitment (AMC) to ensure equitable global access to COVID-19 vaccines.
"…156 economies, representing roughly 64 percent of the global population in total, are now either committed to or eligible for the COVAX Facility, with more to follow," the WHO said in a statement.
This includes 64 higher-income economies, which are self-financing in procuring COVID-19 vaccines once available, and 92 low- and middle-income economies eligible for support for the procurement of vaccines through the COVAX Advance Market Commitment (AMC) coordinated by the Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, a financing instrument aimed at supporting the procurement of vaccines for these countries.
COVID-19 is an “unprecedented global crisis that demands an unprecedented global response, he said.
The WHO chief also unveiled a plan to have two billion doses of coronavirus vaccine available by the end of 2021, reports the UN News.
Working together through the COVAX Facility “is not charity, it’s in every country’s best interest. We sink or we swim together,” said Tedros.
‘Vaccine nationalism’ will prolong pandemic
The WHO chief said commitment agreements have been secured and the COVAX Facility would begin signing contracts with vaccine manufacturers and developers.
The overarching goal of the COVAX Facility is to ensure that all countries have access to vaccines at the same time, and that priority is given to those most at risk, according to the WHO chief.
“The COVAX Facility will help bring the pandemic under control, “save lives, accelerate the economic recovery and ensure that the race for vaccines is a shared endeavour, not a contest that only the rich can win”, he upheld. “Vaccine nationalism will only perpetuate the disease and prolong the global recovery”.
More commitment needed
So far, $3 billion have been invested in the ACT Accelerator – only a tenth of the required $35 for scale-up and impact.
Tedros stressed that $5 billion is needed “immediately to maintain momentum and stay on track for our ambitious timelines”.
“Our challenge now is to take the tremendous promise of the ACT Accelerator and COVAX to scale”, he said, adding, “We are at a critical point and we need a significant increase in countries’ political and financial commitment.”
The WHO chief cited estimates suggesting that once an effective vaccine has been distributed, and international travel and trade is fully restored, “The economic gains will far outweigh” the $38 billion investment required for the Accelerator.
“This isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do”, he spelled out.
“COVAX is now in business”, said Gavi CEO Seth Berkley. “Governments from every continent have chosen to work together, not only to secure vaccines for their own populations, but also to help ensure that vaccines are available to the most vulnerable everywhere”.
‘Great leap’ forward
Meanwhile, Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) CEO Richard Hatchett called the international community’s coming together to tackle the pandemic “a landmark moment in the history of public health”.
“The global spread of COVID-19 means that it is only through equitable and simultaneous access to new lifesaving COVID-19 vaccines that we can hope to end this pandemic,” he said.
“Countries coming together in this way shows a unity of purpose and resolve to end the acute phase of this pandemic. Today, we have taken a great leap towards that goal, for the benefit of all”.
Global Coronavirus Situation
The confirmed COVID-19 cases have exceeded 31.1 million globally as of Tuesday morning, according to data of John Hopkins University.
Besides, over 962,000 deaths have been recorded globally.
Meanwhile, more than 21.3 million people made recovery from the virus infection, according to the latest tally.
A veteran Nepalese Sherpa guide Ang Rita who was the first person to climb Mount Everest 10 times has died in his sleep at the age of 72 after a long illness, reports AP quoting his family members.
Ang Rita Sherpa, popularly known as the Snow Leopard, first reached the summit of the world's tallest mountain in 1983.
Ang Rita, among the first Sherpa guides to receive international fame for his accomplishments, had been suffering from various health problems for many years and had not climbed any mountains since setting the Everest record in 1996.
His daughter, Dolma Lhamo, said he died in his sleep on Monday at their home on the outskirts of Nepal's capital, Kathmandu.
Ang Rita was a national hero but struggled financially and with his health, including liver illness and swelling of the brain. He was in bad health at his home in his mountain village in 1999 when his close friend, former Nepal Mountaineering Association President Ang Tshering, hired a helicopter and flew him to a hospital in Kathmandu for treatment.
He was hospitalised again for months in 2017 due to continued swelling of the brain. The cause of death was not disclosed.
Sherpa are an ethnic group from the Himalayan region, many of whom work as guides or support staff for foreign climbers. They carry equipment and supplies and dig paths in the snow and ice to help their clients get to the summit, usually with little recognition.
Since Ang Rita set his record on the world's highest peak, several mountaineers have surpassed it. Kami Rita, who is not related, has scaled the 8,850-meter (29,0235-foot) peak 24 times.
Ang Rita is survived by a daughter and two sons. Funeral plans are to be decided by the family's Buddhist priest.