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U.S., other countries express ‘concerns’ about WHO report on COVID origins

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On Tuesday, the United States and 13 other countries released a statement expressing “concerns” with a report from a World Health Organization (WHO)-led team into the origins of coronavirus, saying it lacked complete access to the information it needed.

“We voice our shared concerns that the international expert study on the source of the SARS-CoV-2 virus was significantly delayed and lacked access to complete, original data and samples,” the nations said in a joint statement.

There have been concerns for a long time about the independence of the WHO-led team of experts, working jointly with Chinese scientists, and whether the Chinese government was providing full access to needed information on the origins of the virus.

A leaked draft of the WHO report, first reported Monday by the Associated Press, says it’s “extremely unlikely” that the coronavirus escaped from a lab. While not reaching a definitive conclusion, the report instead says the virus was likely transmitted from animals to humans.

Asked on Tuesday at a White House press briefing if China had cooperated enough with the report—according to The Hill—press secretary Jen Psaki said: “They have not been transparent, they have not provided underlying data, that certainly doesn’t qualify as cooperation.”

“We don’t believe that in our review to date that it meets the moment,” Psaki added about the report.

The joint statement was the first reaction after the official release of the report earlier Tuesday, The Hill noted. Joining the U.S. in the statement were Australia, Canada, Czechia, Denmark, Estonia, Israel, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, South Korea, Slovenia, and the United Kingdom.

“Scientific missions like these should be able to do their work under conditions that produce independent and objective recommendations and findings,” the 14 countries stated.

“Going forward, there must now be a renewed commitment by WHO and all Member States to access, transparency, and timeliness,” the statement from the 14 countries added.

On Tuesday in reaction to the report, the WHO said that research is continuing and that it is not ruling out any hypotheses at the moment, according The Hill.

Shortly before the report’s release, The Wall Street Journal noted, WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called for a more extensive probe into whether COVID-19 had escaped from a lab, the strongest terms he has used in public yet on the matter. He said he was ready to deploy additional experts to look into that theory.

Last week, former Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Robert Redfield said he believes the outbreak began at the Wuhan Institute of Virology lab.

“I still think the most likely etiology of this pathogen in Wuhan was from a laboratory—you know, escaped. Other people don’t believe that. That’s fine,” Redfield said in a CNN interview. “Science will eventually figure it out. It’s not unusual for respiratory pathogens that are being worked on in a laboratory to infect a laboratory worker.”

On Sunday, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken criticized China in comments to CNN’s Dana Bash.

“We’ve got real concerns about the methodology and the process that went into that report, including the fact that the government in Beijing apparently helped to write it,” Blinken said.

China has denied any cover up regarding the WHO report.

In the U.S., the WHO has also garnered bipartisan backlash for the aforementioned reasons.

GOP Rep. Lee Zeldin (N.Y.), a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, tweeted Sunday that the investigation did not suffice.

“Since the initial outbreak of COVID-19, the Chinese Communist Party has lied & covered-up to the world the pandemic’s origins,” Zeldin tweeted.

“The World Health Organization has played along time & again as the CCP’s useful idiots. A thorough & truly independent investigation is long overdue.”

Atlantic Council senior fellow Jamie Metzl, who worked at the White House National Security Council under President Bill Clinton, told CBS’s “60 Minutes” that it’s comparable to letting the Soviet Union investigate the Chernobyl nuclear accident, which was covered up by local authorities.

“It was agreed first that China would have veto power over who even got to be on the mission,” said Metzl, a former staffer to President Joe Biden when he headed the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee

“WHO agreed to that,” he continued. “On top of that, the WHO agreed that in most instances, China would do the primary investigation and then just share its findings with these international experts. So these international experts weren’t allowed to do their own primary investigation.”

Journalist Lesley Stahl then asked, “You’re saying that China did the investigation and showed the results to the committee and that was it?”

“Pretty much that was it—not entirely, but pretty much that was it. Imagine if we had asked the Soviet Union to do a co-investigation of Chernobyl, it doesn’t really make sense,” Metzl said.

You can follow Douglas Braff on Twitter @DouglasPBraff.

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REPORT: China uses psychiatric institutions to suppress dissent

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China has a vast network of psychiatric institutions that it uses to suppress dissent, according to a recent report by Safeguard Defenders, an NGO that focuses on human rights violations in China and other Asian countries. The report compiled data found on 99 victims involved in 144 instances on involuntary hospitalizations in 109 institutions from 2015 through 2021. Of the 99 victims in the report, 80 were petitioners [i.e., those who file complaints against officials] and 14 were activists.

But this is hardly a new phenomenon. “China’s regime has been torturing, maiming, and killing dissidents and others in psychiatric facilities for seven decades,” said Gordon G. Chang, author of The Coming Collapse of China and The Great U.S.-China Tech War. “The only way to end the horrific abuse is to end the rule of the Communist Party.”

The report detailed especially harsh treatments, which include: forced medication (in 77 percent of cases), physical restraints on the bed (60 percent), beatings by staff or other patients (25 percent) and electroshock therapy (14 percent). Otherwise normally healthy people were given anti-psychotic and psychotropic medications, causing severe side effects like memory loss, insomnia and tremors. Electroshock therapy was often administered to the victims as they were fully conscious, rather than under anesthesia in small doses as would be clinically appropriate for certain patients.  According to the report, “[Electroshock therapy] without anesthesia is not only unimaginably painful and frightening for the patient but carries serious side effects, including the risk of bone fractures, joint dislocation, muscle tears, disruption of the heart beat and lung damage.”

Family and friends are often used as weapons against the victims. They were not permitted to call or visit the victims in 76 percent of cases, which essentially makes these cases “enforced disappearances.” 11 percent of cases were committed with the assistance of family (either voluntarily or coerced by authorities). Family and friends who petition for the victim’s release are often faced with persecution, and involuntarily commitment themselves.

The peak of psychiatric detentions occurred from 2015 through 2016, which was around the same time as China’s “709 Crackdown” where the government persecuted hundreds of human rights lawyers.

Some of the detentions are rather draconian. As a petitioner who called for local authorities to investigate a robbery in his house, Zeng Jiping was detained for almost two years. For “live tweeting herself splashing paint over a portrait of Xi Jinping,” Dong Yaoqiong received 1 year, 4 months detention. Twenty-nine out of the 99 victims in the report were hospitalized more than once. In two-thirds of cases where data was known, the authorities did not perform a psychiatric evaluation, in direct violation of China’s Mental Health Law.

The report also gives the example of Andy Li, a member of the “Hong Kong 12” pro-democracy protestors, as falling victim to involuntary detention in Hong Kong’ Siu Lam Psychiatric Center in 2021. The report noted that, as Li’s family didn’t know about his detention, “Li’s cases appears to be a worrying sign that the political abuse of psychiatry practiced on the mainland is now being exported into Hong Kong…”

Those who are finally released from their involuntary committals face lasting physical and phycological pain, and stigma within their communities. People seeking damages for their treatment are often faced with doctors and attorneys who do not want to assist them for fear of retaliation from the government.

Conclusion

According to the report, China is using “peace and health asylums” and other healthcare institutions to “punish and remove activists and petitioners from society without the trouble of going through a trial.” While the report details various Chinese laws that are supposed to protect citizens from such involuntary hospitalizations, in reality Chinese authorities do not abide by these laws and the citizens are not protected. The policy of involuntary hospitalizations show the extent to which the Chinese Communist Party will go to suppress dissent.

You can follow Steve Postal on Twitter @HebraicMosaic

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