China’s anti-Covid-19 app: a weapon to restrict dissidents’ travels?

Beijing, Nov 17 (EFE).- The anti-Covid-19 health code on Chinese lawyer Xie Yang’s mobile phone changed from normal green to dangerous red shortly before he went to Shanghai to visit the mother of Zhang Zhan, a woman now imprisoned who reported from Wuhan on the early stages of the pandemic.

The color change prevented Xie from even accessing Changsha airport, at the entrance of which he had to show, through a mobile tracking application, that he had not been in risk areas or in contact with infected people.

Hours before the trip, on the night of Nov. 5, two police officers had tried to dissuade Xie from the trip.

“Orders from above,” they said, but didn’t change the lawyer’s mind.

Hours after the incident at the airport, on the morning of Nov. 7, his code was back to green, but by then there was nothing to do.

Human rights organization Amnesty International said it is the first time it has been aware of pandemic tracking mobile applications being used to impede dissidents from traveling.

“The health app is a scientific matter. It should not be manipulated by the bandits of the Communist Party of China as a tool to restrict the mobility of dissidents,” Xie wrote online, messages accompanied by screenshots of his code.

“In China, politicians are above all,” the lawyer told EFE by phone, three days after the event. “They are perfectly capable of changing the data on the (health) platform. As I refused to agree to the police’s request, I think they were the ones who changed my data on the platform.”

The hours the code colors changed also coincided with the trip.

“It is easy to deduce that it was them,” Xie said. He went to the Municipal Health Commission on November 8 to ask for an explanation.

“I wanted to know how that could have happened on a technical level. Did I get within eight meters of a risk zone or an infected one?” he said.

Xie said his code was green the day before going to the airport, and that he had neither been in any of the areas declared of medium or high risk, nor in contact with any people with symptoms.

Changsha Municipal Health Commission told EFE that the city – from which Xie said he did not leave in the previous two weeks – was not declared at that time as a medium or high risk area for contagion.

After the period to which the Health Commission had agreed to provide explanations, they said there was no information they could provide.

Lawyer Wang Yu also suffered a similar situation on the same dates. The Beijing health application did not allow her to access the system for a while and, afterward, did not allow her to select her actual travel itinerary.

The health app required her to enter the places visited in the last 14 days, a standard procedure when traveling, except that the only options available were places with outbreaks, so if he selected them, she would have immediately been banned after entering the Chinese capital.

“The health code is a tool to manipulate people and maintain stability,” Wang said ironically on Twitter.

Her husband, Bao Longjun, also could not return to Beijing from the eastern city of Suzhou on those same dates.

Bao wrote on Twitter that the only option that the application allowed him to choose was Changzhou, a town then considered high risk.

“But I have never been to Changzhou,” Bao said. “I will not be able to return (to Beijing) if I fill in the form like this. After filing a (telephone) complaint, they removed Changzhou (as the only selectable destination). But now I have a yellow code,” with which movements are restricted and the individual should be at home in quarantine.

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