Hong Kong police chase developers of fake COVID-19 tracking app

Some fear the app will be used to control people amid a citywide crackdown on public protest and dissent.
By Lau Siu Fung
2021.11.02
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Hong Kong police chase developers of fake COVID-19 tracking app A woman walks past QR codes for the Hong Kong government's Leave Home Safe app, Oct. 30, 2021.
AFP

Authorities in Hong Kong look set to expand compulsory use of a COVID-19 tracking app, as police vowed on Tuesday to track down the developers of a fake version of the app.

Police are investigating the origins of the fake app after the government made its LeaveHomeSafe app compulsory for anyone entering government-run buildings, including courts, swimming pools, badminton courts and public markets from Nov. 1.

Police on Monday arrested three government employees and two contractors for using the fake app to gain access to Immigration Tower.

The LeaveHomeSafe app has sparked concerns that it will be used to control people's movements for political purposes.

Media backed by the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) called on Monday for the app to be made mandatory in all public indoor spaces.

On Tuesday, Michael Tien, who represents Hong Kong at the National People's Congress (NPC) in Beijing, said the government is planning to make it compulsory for people to use the app when going to any kind of restaurant, as part of a bid to persuade Beijing to scrap quarantine for Hong Kong visitors.

"The Chinese government wants to see LeaveHomeSafe as the key apparatus to trace people from Hong Kong, who eventually test positive [for Covid-19], where they have been in the last 14 days," Tien said in a comments reported by government broadcaster RTHK.

The news came a day after five more people pleaded guilty to charges of "taking part in an illegal assembly" after they attended a banned gathering commemorating the victims of the June 4, 1989 massacre than ended weeks of student-led protests in Beijing's Tiananmen Square.

Lee Cheuk-yan, Richard Tsoi, Leung Yiu-chung, Leung Kam-wai and Wu Chi-wai, the last of 16 activists to be tried and jailed for taking part in the candlelight vigil, entered the plea on Monday, while co-defendants Jimmy Lai, Gwyneth Ho and former vigil organizer Chow Hang-tung pleaded not guilty.

"We should commemorate June 4, 1989," Lee, who once headed the now-disbanded Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China which ran the vigils for three decades, told the court. "It's our duty, and I have no regrets."

"I understand every word of the charge, but I can't see where the crime is in mourning the loss of innocent lives," Chow told the court, prompting applause from the public gallery.

Ho said she was pleading not guilty. "Even if commemorating [the Tiananmen dead] is a crime, the truth can't stay silent," she said.

Judge Amanda Woodcock adjourned proceedings for the five pleading guilty until Nov. 12, for mitigation pleas and sentencing.

Previous defendants who attended the vigil of some 20,000 people have been jailed for up to 10 months, or handed suspended sentences.

The high-profile cases came amid an ongoing crackdown on public dissent and peaceful protest under the national security law, which bans any criticism of the Hong Kong authorities or the CCP regime, as well as speech and actions deemed seditious, subversive, secessionist, or supportive of terrorism.

Hong Kong police arrested four people aged 61-85 in Mong Kok at the weekend for "sedition" after they held up a yellow umbrella symbolizing the 2014 pro-democracy movement, along with a pop-up display calling for fully democratic elections on the street.

One may plead guilty

Meanwhile, a former student activist charged with "secession" under Hong Kong's draconian national security law will likely plead guilty, prosecutors told the District Court on Tuesday.

Tony Chung, who is about to stand trial for "secession" and "money-laundering" in connection with his activities in the now-disbanded group Studentlocalism, but is now likely to strike a plea bargain, the prosecution told the court on Tuesday, RTHK reported.

Chung was arrested on Oct. 27 for allegedly violating Article 21 of the national security law, which forbids anyone from giving any kind of assistance to someone violating the law, and which carries a maximum jail term of 10 years.

He stands accused of "actively organizing, planning, implementing or participating in acts aimed at splitting the country and undermining national unity in Hong Kong from July 1 to Oct. 27 this year, along with others," according to the charges against him.

The money-laundering charges relate to a crowdfunding campaign by Studentlocalism, which called for donations only from those who supported independence for Hong Kong, and to payments totaling nearly H.K.$700,000 made to Chung's personal bank account between January 2018 and July 2020.

Chung is also accused of conspiring to publish seditious publications in Hong Kong between Nov. 30, 2018 and June 9 of this year, before the national security law took effect.

Chung was among four young people arrested by Hong Kong police on July 26 on suspicion of "secession" under the national security law, which took effect on July 1.

The arrestees aged from 16 to 21 were taken into custody in raids in the New Territories districts of Yuen Long, Shatin, and Tuen Mun on suspicion of "organizing and inciting secessionist activities."

Police said they were suspected of posting announcements online calling on people to fight to establish a "Hong Kong nation," of declaring that they would use all necessary means to achieve this end, and of calling for pro-independence groups to unite.

Studentlocalism disbanded ahead of the law's implementation, but as the posts were made after the new law took effect, they fell under articles in the law banning "incitement" to secessionist activities, police said.

Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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