HomeWorld NewsThe victims of the Chinese bank run planned to protest. Then...

The victims of the Chinese bank run planned to protest. Then their Covid health codes turned red


Liu, a 39-year-old technician in Beijing, arrived in the central city of Zhengzhou on Sunday with all the boxes checked to travel under China’s strict Covid restrictions.

He had tested negative for Covid-19 the day before; his hotel had confirmed that he could be checked in; and the health code on his phone app was green – meaning he had not been exposed to people or places deemed to be at risk and was therefore free to travel.

But when Liu scanned a local QR code to exit Zhengzhou train station, his health code came back red – a nightmare for any traveler in China, where freedom of movement is strictly dictated by a color-coded system imposed by the government. government to control the spread of the virus.

Anyone with a red code – usually assigned to people infected with Covid or deemed by authorities to be at high risk of infection – immediately becomes persona non grata. They are banned from all places and public transport and are often subject to weeks of government quarantine.

This all but derailed the plans of Liu, who had come to Zhengzhou, the provincial capital of Henan province, to seek redress from a bank that had frozen his deposits. He had placed his savings – totaling around 6 million yuan ($890,000) – in a rural bank in Henan, and since April he has not been able to withdraw a penny.

Over the past two months, thousands of depositors like Liu have fought to recover their savings from at least four rural banks in Henan – in a case that involves billions of dollars. At the end of May, hundreds of them traveled to Zhengzhou from all over China and staged a protest outside the Henan banking regulator’s office to demand their money back – to no avail.

Another protest was scheduled for Monday. But when the depositors arrived in Zhengzhou, they were stunned to find their health codes — which were initially green — had turned red, according to six people who spoke with CNN and social media posts.

Dozens of depositors were taken to a quarantine hotel guarded by police and local officials, before being sent back on trains to their hometowns the following day; others were “quarantined” at several other locations in the city, including a university campus, according to witnesses and online publications.

The filers accused Zhengzhou authorities of tampering with the health code system to prevent them from returning to the city – and thus thwarting their plans to defend their rights.

“The health code should have been used to prevent the spread of the pandemic, but now it has deviated from its original role and has become something like a certificate of good citizenship,” said Qiu, a filer in the eastern province. from Jiangsu.

Qiu, a teacher, had not gone to Henan to protest, but his health code also turned red on Sunday evening after scanning a Zhengzhou QR code. He said another depositor had shared a photo of Zhengzhou’s QR code on messaging app WeChat, in a bid to find out whether depositors outside Henan were also affected.

Code red seems to be aimed only at depositors. Qiu used his wife’s phone to scan the QR code, and it came back green, he said. “I called the government hotline in Zhengzhou to complain about my code red, and they told me there was an error with the Big Data information database.”

Both Liu and Qiu asked to be identified by their surname only.

CNN has contacted the Zhengzhou government for comment. The Henan Provincial Health Commission told the official news site thepaper.cn that it was “investigating and verifying” complaints from depositors who received red codes.

A patient scans the QR code at a temporary hospital for people infected with Covid-19 in Shanghai on April 24.

The alleged abuse of power sparked an uproar on social media.

“Now (the authorities) can stop you from petitioning by directly putting you in digital chains, that is, giving you red codes,” said a comment on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like platform.

Hu Xijin, the former editor of the Global Times, a state-run nationalist tabloid, said on Weibo that local governments should not use health codes for anything other than epidemic prevention.

“If a locality tries to prevent the movement of certain people by controlling their health codes for other purposes, it is not only a clear violation of the laws and regulations of prevention of Covid, but it will also jeopardize the credibility of health codes and public support for the epidemic. prevention,” Hu wrote on Tuesday. “It will do more harm than good to our social governance.”

Rights groups have long warned that China’s ubiquitous Covid surveillance and tracking network could be used by authorities to target individuals and groups for political reasons, such as cracking down on dissent.

Last November, Xie Yang, a human rights lawyer in the southern city of Changsha, said on Twitter that his health code turned red the morning he was about to board a flight to Shanghai to visit the mother of Zhang Zhan, a citizen journalist jailed for reporting on China’s first coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan .

“The health code, like many algorithmic systems in China and around the world, lacks transparency. Exactly how the companies designed the app and what criteria they use to categorize people remains unclear… It’s also unclear whether the system allows local governments to tamper with it as a means of preventing abuse. protests,” said Maya Wang, researcher at Human Rights. Look who has studied digital surveillance in China.

“The opacity of the health code, its ability to arbitrarily control people’s movements while giving people little means to effectively appeal the application’s decision, makes it a particularly abusive system.”

From the Zhengzhou train station, Liu, the drop off from Beijing, was taken to a room where several other travelers were with red health codes.

There he met another deponent who had traveled from Anyang, another city in Henan, and the two were later escorted by police to a quarantine hotel. By evening, about 40 depositors — all with red health codes — had gathered at the hotel and were told to spend the night there.

The following afternoon he was allowed to leave the hotel and return to Beijing – escorted by police and local officials until he boarded the train. He was excused from scanning QR codes en route – as his code was still red and under Covid rules he would not have been allowed to enter the station, let alone travel.

On Tuesday, as news and anger over red health codes spread online, some filers said their health codes had turned green again.

Liu’s code also turned green in the late afternoon, but he said he wanted accounts.

“Officials who made the decision (to tamper with the health code system) and enforced the policy should be punished according to law,” he said. “But I’m not too optimistic about it. The power of government is too capricious.

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