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Five officials in central China’s Zhengzhou city were punished on Wednesday for willfully redacting the health codes of thousands of bank fraud protesters, the local anti-corruption body said.

The move came after a week-long online firestorm over the city’s alleged misuse of Covid-19 control measures to deal with social instability.

Chinese depositors across the country found their Henan health codes turned red last week, preventing them from traveling or moving freely within the province.

The same group of depositors has been fighting for nearly two months to recover deposits frozen in a bank fraud case that sparked street protests in Zhengzhou, the capital of Henan, last month.

The red health code, which some filers have described as “digital handcuffs”, has sparked a public outcry over the past two weeks, with academics questioning its legitimacy and some alleging it violates the law.

The Zhengzhou branch of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, the country’s top anti-corruption watchdog, launched an investigation into the codes red on Friday.

Zhengzhou Epidemic Control Center chief Feng Xianbin and his deputy Zhang Linlin were found to have granted red codes to applicants who traveled or planned to travel to Henan “without permission”.

This “has seriously undermined the seriousness of the regulations governing the use of health codes and caused a significant negative social impact,” according to an online statement from Zhengzhou’s CCDI.

Feng was held primarily responsible and stripped of his Communist Party credentials, while Zhang was demoted.

Two officials, one working for the city’s office responsible for social stability and the other involved in its big data operations, as well as an employee of a city-owned data company, received demerits for acting on orders from Feng and Zhang.

A total of 1,317 depositor health codes were affected, Zhengzhou’s CCDI said.


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