BEIJING – NINE tourists from South Africa, Britain and India have been detained in China and may face criminal charges after being accused of watching “propaganda videos”, a charity said Wednesday.
Gift of the Givers, a humanitarian relief organisation based in South Africa, said a total of 20 visitors were held on Friday at Ordos airport in China’s Inner Mongolia region.
It said 10 were South African, nine British, and one an Indian national, adding that none of the group had been charged.
Six British members of the group have been released and have already left China, while five South Africans are scheduled return home tomorrow.
The nine others are being held at a detention centre, Gift of the Givers said in a statement.
“The Chinese have been very vague saying that someone in the group has some links to a suspected terror group and that someone has some links to a banned group and that the real reason for the incarceration is that someone was watching propaganda videos in the hotel,” it said.
The charity called on South Africa’s Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, who is in China on government business, to raise the issue with his hosts.
South African Foreign Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane told reporters in Pretoria that consultations with Chinese authorities were ongoing.
“The matter has been raised at the highest level possible, taking advantage of the deputy president’s presence in China,” she said. The South Africans included several doctors and relatives of prominent businessmen, Gift of the Givers said, adding that the travellers’ planned 47-day tour of “ancient China” had gone “horribly wrong”.
Beijing recently extended a year-long nationwide crackdown on “terrorism” it had declared after a series of violent assaults it blames on Islamist separatists from the mainly Muslim region of Xinjiang.
The ruling Communist party, suspicious of overseas groups, has in recent months tightened controls on foreigners working in the country.
African telecommunications giant Vodacom confirmed that the brother, aunt and uncle of the company’s chief executive Shameel Joosub were among those being held.
Gift of the Givers founder Imtiaz Sooliman told AFP the detainees were not directly connected with the charity, but that Joosub had asked it to assist as it has experience with international emergencies.
“The Chinese must be told in no uncertain terms to provide the evidence and proof if the South Africans have terror links, charge them and take them to trial, alternatively, they must release them immediately and unconditionally,” it said.
The public security ministry in Beijing did not respond to a request for comment by AFP.
A spokeswoman for the British embassy in Beijing said Wednesday that 11 British citizens had been held in northern China, two of whom held South African dual nationality.
“Six have been deported. The remainder are still detained,” spokeswoman Anna Bradbury said, adding officials were seeking “further clarification” on the detentions. – AFP