Beirut, Lebanon – Lebanon’s financial prosecutor has ordered the arrest of the head of monetary operations at the central bank amid a widening probe into manipulation of the country’s volatile currency.
The arrest of Mazen Hamdan late on Thursday marked the first such move against an official at the increasingly embattled institution since Lebanon’s currency crisis began last summer.
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The Lebanese pound, long set at 1,500 to $1, is now trading for roughly 4,200 to the greenback on the black market amid an acute dollar shortage linked to dried-up remittances, corruption and unsustainable fiscal policies.
Its demise is just one part of a full-blown financial crisis that has pushed the small, economically-crippled nation to seek $20bn in foreign aid, of which $10bn is supposed to come from an International Monetary Fund (IMF) programme.
The crisis has seen tens of thousands of people lose jobs and poverty soar to almost 50 percent, according to finance ministry data. Last month, Social Affairs Minister Ramzi Moucharafieh said some 70-75 percent of the population required aid after the economic crisis was exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, while the IMF forecast that the economy would shrink by 12 percent this year – one of the worst recessions in the world.
The country’s currency had been on a steady downwards trajectory against the US dollar since August. That slide turned into a freefall in late April, with a roughly 12 percent drop in a single day, leading to nationwide street protests and riots.
Prime Minister Hassan Diab’s government blamed the central bank for failing to inject dollars into the market to stabilise the currency. Diab also alleged that the central bank governor, Riad Salameh, may be aiming to intentionally hurt the currency, noting “suspicious ambiguity” in decisions.
Salameh denied these charges as part of a “campaign” against him and said he has worked to keep the currency stable for decades through successive political crises and conflict.
The central bank subsequently ordered all currency exchange dealers to trade dollars at a rate of 3,200 – its third attempt to implement an exchange rate cap since the crisis began. At the same time, security forces launched a crackdown against any traders who went above this rate, leading all exchange dealers to go on a strike now heading into its fourth week.
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Unrelenting, financial prosecutor Ali Ibrahim has ordered the arrest of several dozen exchange dealers in recent weeks, including the head of the currency exchange dealers’ syndicate, Mahmoud Mrad.
On Thursday, he also ordered the arrest of Hamdan, who remains in custody.
In a statement, the central bank said it was cooperating with investigations and had lifted secrecy on its transactions with currency exchange dealers. In the period between April 8 and May 5, the central bank said it had sold $12.7m to currency exchange dealers and had bought $11.3m.
These amounts, the statement said, could not account for the “magnitude” of currency depreciation during that period, in which the rate dropped from 2,900 Lebanese pounds to $1 to more than 4,000.
“It is self-evident, after looking at the amounts mentioned, that, contrary to what was rumoured, there was no manipulation in the money exchange market as a result of the Central Bank’s operations,” the statement said.
Some analysts view the attempts to control the currency via a crackdown on exchange dealers or the central bank as futile.
“Accusing money changers for the vertiginous depreciation of Lebanese Pound is politically expedient but is economic nonsense,” Nasser Saidi, a former economy minister and central bank vice-governor, said in a Twitter post.
“Depreciation results [from the central bank] financing budget deficit by printing money, unsustainable fiscal and debt policies, deep recession and nothing to anchor Lebanese Pound expectations.”
Reporting by Timour Azhari
Jordan arrests leaders of teachers’ union in opposition crackdown |NationalTribune.com
Jordanian security forces arrested leading members of the opposition-run teachers union on Saturday, raided its offices and shut it down for two years, escalating a confrontation with a group that has become a leading source of dissent. Prosecutors charged Nasser Nawasreh, the acting head of the Jordanian Teachers Syndicate, with incitement over a speech to…
Jordanian security forces arrested leading members of the opposition-run teachers union on Saturday, raided its offices and shut it down for two years, escalating a confrontation with a group that has become a leading source of dissent.
Prosecutors charged Nasser Nawasreh, the acting head of the Jordanian Teachers Syndicate, with incitement over a speech to supporters last Wednesday that criticised Prime Minister Omar al-Razzaz’s government. State media said other charges related to allegations of financial and administrative wrongdoing.
Riot police reinforcements were deployed on Saturday near the seat of government in the capital, Amman, and other areas where teacher activists were planning protests. Security forces raided the union’s headquarters in the city of Karak.
الموضوع ليس موضوع #نقابة_المعلمين بقدر ما هو يدل على سعي الحكومة على تكميم الافوه وسحق كل من يقف أمامها “ومن كان له اذن فليسمع، ومن كان له عين فليراه”#مع_كل_حر #مع_المعلم
— Mohammed Odeh (@Mohamme66692607) July 25, 2020
Translation: The issue is not about the teachers’ syndicate, but about the government’s attempt to silence outspoken voices and crush everyone who stands before it
The teachers’ union responded by calling for a demonstration on Wednesday, during which Nawasra urged authorities to respect their promises.
According to the official Petra news agency, Amman’s Prosecutor-General Hassan Abdallat summoned 13 members of the union’s council for questioning on “criminal and corruption charges”.
Petra did not elaborate on the nature of the alleged “crimes” but quoted Abdallat as saying they included “financial violations”.
The prosecutor also issued a gag order on investigations into the case, the agency said.
توقيف أعضاء النقابة رفض تكفيلهم هو وصمة على على جبين الحكومه المعلم في كل العالم يكرم وتحفظ حقوقه الا عنا بتبهدل لانه طالب في حقه #مع_المعلم
— mutaz alrbehat (@meezo_86) July 25, 2020
Translation: The arrest of union members is a stain on the government
Political opposition is often marginalised in Jordan, but protests have grown in recent years over eroding living standards, corruption and the slow pace of political reforms.
Security forces intervene as demonstrators demand a 50 percent salary increase for teachers in Amman [File: Anadolu]
‘Government smear campaign’
Saturday’s crackdown on the union would “only further aggravate political tensions by the government at a time people are choked under hard economic conditions”, said Murad Adailah, head of the Islamic Action Front, the largest opposition party.
The 100,000-strong union went on strike last year, shutting down schools across Jordan for a month in one of the longest and most disruptive public sector strikes in the country’s history. In recent weeks, its leadership has accused the government of failing to honour a deal signed last October that ended the strike.
The agreement included a 50 percent pay rise this year, which the government now says is unaffordable because of the economic blow from the coronavirus crisis.
انا #مع_نقابة_المعلمين ما عجبهم انه النقابة صار الها شعبية وبتخاف على مصلحة البلد لانهم بخافو ينكشفوا. #نقابة_المعلمين تمثل كافة المجتمع الاردني لذلك بدهم يسكتوا صوت الشعب.
— fadi alsmadi (@fadialsmadi) July 25, 2020
Translation: I am with the teachers’ union…the government did not like the fact the union had lots of popularity and was afraid its shortcomings would be exposed. The union represents the Jordanian society, which is why the government wants to silence the voice of the people.
Some officials have also accused union leaders of harbouring the opposition’s political agenda. The union said this accusation is part of a government smear campaign.
Opposition politicians say the government has been using draconian emergency laws enacted last March at the start of the coronavirus lockdown to limit civil and political rights. Activists have been arrested in recent weeks over comments on social media.
Jordan is highly dependent on foreign aid and has struggled to curb its public debt, which stands at more than $40bn, while unemployment in the first quarter of 2020 hit 19.3 percent.
China arrests law professor who criticised Xi over coronavirus |NationalTribune.com
Chinese authorities have arrested a law professor who published essays strongly criticising President Xi Jinping over the coronavirus pandemic and accusing him of ruling “tyrannically”, according to his friends and colleagues. Xu Zhangrun, a rare outspoken critic of the government in China’s heavily censored academia, was taken from his home in suburban Beijing on Monday…
Chinese authorities have arrested a law professor who published essays strongly criticising President Xi Jinping over the coronavirus pandemic and accusing him of ruling “tyrannically”, according to his friends and colleagues.
Xu Zhangrun, a rare outspoken critic of the government in China’s heavily censored academia, was taken from his home in suburban Beijing on Monday morning by more than 20 policemen, one of his friends said on condition of anonymity.
According to a text message circulated among Xu’s friends, police also searched his house and confiscated his computer.
Xu published an essay, titled Viral Alarm – When Fury Overcomes Fear, in February blaming the culture of deception and censorship fostered by Xi for the spread of the coronavirus in China, where the outbreak was first reported in December last year before spreading globally.
“The cause of all of these lies, ultimately, is the axle – a reference to Xi – and the cabal that surrounds him,” Xu wrote in the essay that appeared on overseas websites, adding the chaos in the virus epicentre of Hubei province reflected systemic problems in the Chinese state.
“It began with the imposition of stern bans on the reporting of accurate information about the virus, which served to embolden deception at every level of government,” he said.
Most recently in May, before China’s delayed annual parliamentary meeting, he wrote an article accusing Xi of trying to bring the Cultural Revolution back to China.
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Al Jazeera’s Sarah Clarke, reporting from Hong Kong, said his arrest on Monday was confirmed by several sources who feel his critical articles may have triggered his arrest.
“According to his friends, his wife said she received a phone call from police saying that he had been arrested for soliciting prostitution,” Clarke said.
“His friends say he had been put under house arrest in Beijing a few days before – between June 30 and July 4 – so they had gone to his house to welcome his release, but as a result, they found that he had already been arrested.”
Police and public security authorities in Beijing did not respond immediately to requests for comment on Monday.
‘Playing with power’
Freedom of expression in China has always been tightly controlled by the Communist Party, but critics say the grip has become suffocating under Xi.
In his February article, Xu wrote: “China is led by one man only, but this man is in the dark and rules tyrannically, with no method for governance, though he is skilled at playing with power, causing the entire country to suffer.”
He also predicted that a continuing economic slowdown in China would cause “the decline of national confidence,” along with “political and academic indignation and social atrophy”.
The law professor at Tsinghua University, one of the country’s top institutions, had previously spoken out against the 2018 abolition of presidential term limits in an essay circulated online.
He was reportedly barred by the university from teaching and conducting research last year after publishing an article that was critical of the government.
Space for independent discussion has shrunk further this year as Xi’s government has sought to deflect blame for the coronavirus, which scientists believe emerged from a wild animal market in Wuhan.
Chen Jieren, a former journalist with Communist mouthpiece, the People’s Daily, was convicted in May of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” and for posting “false” and “negative” information.
Ren Zhiqiang, an outspoken Chinese Communist Party critic and millionaire property tycoon, was also detained after he penned an essay fiercely critical of Xi’s response to the outbreak.
Lebanon arrests suspect for putting Nigerian worker up ‘for sale’
Beirut, Lebanon – Lebanese security forces have arrested a man suspected of putting a Nigerian domestic worker up “for sale” on a popular Facebook page used to trade everyday items such as furniture, food and shoes. “Domestic worker of African citizenship (Nigerian) for sale with a new residency and full legal papers,” an account under…
Beirut, Lebanon – Lebanese security forces have arrested a man suspected of putting a Nigerian domestic worker up “for sale” on a popular Facebook page used to trade everyday items such as furniture, food and shoes.
“Domestic worker of African citizenship (Nigerian) for sale with a new residency and full legal papers,” an account under the name Wael Jerro posted on the page, named Buy and Sell in Lebanon. The exact date of the post remains unclear.
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The suspect was arrested on Thursday by Lebanon’s General Security agency, the country’s leading intelligence agency, which also controls entry and exit from the small Mediterranean nation. General Security said an investigation was under way in the case, and warned that advertising people online violated the country’s human trafficking laws, subjecting perpetrators to prosecution.
The arrest came after Justice Minister Marie-Claude Najem on Wednesday ordered the judiciary to follow up on the case, citing Lebanon’s anti-human trafficking law. Lebanon’s Ministry of Labour also released a statement saying anyone who advertises domestic workers online would be prosecuted.
Najem said in a statement that the case represented a “blatant violation of human dignity”.
The case has sparked fury in Nigeria, where officials requested the Lebanese authorities to investigate the incident.
“The government is very angry,” said Julie Okah-Donli, director-general of the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP). “The Lebanese government should prosecute him and rescue other girls that have been sold or [are] about to be sold into slavery.”
Many Nigerians also took to social media to express their outrage.
Please where is that Lebanese that put up Nigerian lady for sale being held? I want to buy him and his entire family back in Lebanon. #Arab #Africa #lockdownextension #vaccine #40billion #Cameroon #DRC #COVID19KE #Ramadan2020 #GandujeHasFailedKano #KenyaVsUganda
— Semiu Okanlawon (@sokanlawon) April 23, 2020
Hey tweeps this is a Nigerian girl that was trafficked to Lebanon as an housemaid, as seen in the picture a particular Arab man is putting her up for sale at the rate of $1k pls kindly tag @abikedabiri and other law makers who can help in finding this lady and bring her back.🙏 pic.twitter.com/tA6hPmU2dM
— Kristy🇳🇬🇱🇧 (@Kristy36679703) April 22, 2020
Some 250,000 migrant domestic workers – most from sub-Saharan African countries such as Ethiopia and Ghana, and southeast Asian countries including Nepal and the Philippines – reside in Lebanon.
Domestic workers in Lebanon are legally bound to their employers through the country’s notorious kafala system, which only allows them to end their contracts with the consent of employers.
The system has led to widespread abuse, ranging from the withholding of wages, to physical and sexual assault. Camille Abousleiman, Lebanon’s former labour minister, has called it “modern-day slavery”.
While Lebanon’s Ministry of Labour says it is working to improve protection for domestic workers by amending the contract between them and their employers, experts say the abuse will continue until the kafala system is entirely abolished.
“Adopting a revised contract which addresses shortcomings is undoubtedly a step forward, but it’s not enough,” Diala Haidar, a Lebanon campaigner at Amnesty International, told Al Jazeera.
“The Lebanese labour law explicitly excludes domestic workers from labour protections enjoyed by other workers such as minimum wage, overtime pay, compensation for unfair dismissal, and social security. The labour law needs to be amended to recognise domestic workers as workers and grant them full labour protections,” she said.
General Security had said in 2017 that two domestic workers die every week in Lebanon. Videos often circulate of domestic workers trying to escape the homes of their employers by climbing down high buildings. Frequently, they are found dead.
Last month, the body of 23-year-old Ghanaian domestic worker Faustina Tay was found in a parking lot under the fourth-storey apartment of her employers. In the days leading up to her death, Tay had alleged repeated abuse by her employer and the agent who brought her to Lebanon and said she feared her life was in danger.
The employer has since been blacklisted, meaning he cannot hire any more domestic workers, while a criminal investigation is ongoing. The high-profile case, first reported by Al Jazeera, shed light on the conditions migrant workers face in Lebanon.
Ghanaian domestic worker Faustina Tay was found dead on March 14 in southern Beirut [Al Jazeera]
Despite the fact that most domestic workers arrive in Lebanon by legal means, the Facebook post has renewed calls in Nigeria for tougher measures to curb the activities of those involved in human trafficking – a big problem faced by a number of African countries.
“As long as traffickers are working about freely, making money, trafficking will not stop,” Abike Dabiri-Erewa, Chairman, Nigerians in Diaspora Commission, told Al Jazeera.
Last year, the Nigerian government began the repatriation of up to 20,000 girls who were trafficked to Mali.
The national agency fighting human trafficking said many of these girls ended up working as sex slaves in mining camps in Mali after they were tricked with promises of getting jobs in Europe.
In 2018, the government removed some 5,500 Nigerians from Libya following reports of abuse, slavery and torture.
“We shall, after COVID-19, engage countries where human trafficking is endemic with a view to rescuing and repatriating victims of trafficking as we did in Libya a few years ago,” Okah-Donli said, referring to the disease caused by the new coronavirus.
“Human trafficking is a global problem and huge all over the world because of the large profit. It’s an organised criminal network that cuts across local and international boundaries. more of it is for sexual and labour exploitation and of course organ harvesting,” she added.
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