Authorities In China Use Covid-Tracking App to Thwart Protesters

Authorities In China Use Covid-Tracking App to Thwart Protesters

It looks like China has been using its covid surveillance infrastructure to stifle protests.

A protest that had been planned by hundreds of bank depositors seeking access to their frozen funds was reportedly thwarted by authorities who turned their QR health code apps red. This meant they were unable travel, and so the protests fizzled.

The app works using a color coded coding system. The user scans a venue’s QR code, and in turn, their own QR code turns either green or red. Green means they have the all clear to enter; but red means they might have covid and must quarantine.

The depositors said their most recent Covid test results were negative, and that officials refused to explain why their health codes turned red.

Whoever would have seen that coming?

The depositors told Reuters that they were planning to travel to the central province of Henan to protest against an almost two-month block on accessing around $178 million of deposits, which had left companies unable to pay workers and left individuals unable to access their savings.

Reuters reports: Rights groups have warned China could use its vast COVID surveillance infrastructure to stifle dissent. Without a green code on their smartphone app, citizens lose access to public transport and spaces such as restaurants and malls, as well as the right to travel across the country.

“They are putting digital handcuffs on us,” said a depositor from Sichuan province surnamed Chen, who declined to use his full name for fear of government retribution.

The Henan provincial government and the Ministry of Public Security did not respond to requests for comment.

The National Health Commission said in a note sent to Reuters on Thursday the use of health codes should not be expanded without authorisation and cannot be assigned other than in connection with the prevention and control of the epidemic.

After recent COVID outbreaks, some regions in China have asked travellers to register their plans online.

A man surnamed Liu, who lives in Hubei province, found that his health code turned red on the morning of June 12 after he registered the day before to travel to Henan.

Liu had planned to travel to a protest planned for Monday in the Henan provincial capital Zhengzhou, where he had hoped to get his money back. The protest would have been the latest among numerous such demonstrations in Henan in recent months.

More than 200 depositors were similarly blocked when their health codes turned red, according to members of a WeChat group.

It could not be ascertained if the change in code was intended to block the protesters or for another reason, but three depositors told Reuters they knew people who had registered to travel to Henan, who were not connected to the frozen funds, whose codes did not turn red.

(Article by Niamh Harris republished from NewsPunch.com)

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