AORDOS – A Spokesman for two of the nine foreign tourists being detained by Chinese authorities for allegedly watching terror propaganda videos last week were merely viewing a documentary on the ancient Mongolian conqueror Genghis Khan.
South African-based charity Gift of the Givers said the 20 tourists – including nine Britons, 10 South Africans and one Indian national – were supposed to be exploring ancient China during a planned 47-day trip. But the tour went “horribly wrong” on 10 July when they were arrested at Ordos Airport, Inner Mongolia, at 9.40am local time, the Guardian Reported.
Chinese authorities have released the five South Africans, three Britons and one Indian national, who will be sent home within days, said South African and British diplomats and relatives of the tourists.
None of the nine foreign tourists were charged with any wrongdoing, according to a spokesman for two of the tourists.
China’s foreign ministry said earlier this week that 20 foreign nationals were detained over “suspicion of criminal wrongdoing” last week in the northern city of Ordos. They were in China on a 47-day private tour of ancient sites across the country, according to relatives of some of the travelers.
Eleven members of the tour group—six Britons and five South Africans—were released and deported earlier this week. But local public-security officials held nine of the visitors under criminal detention pending further investigation.
Among those who are being sent home are Hoosain Jacobs, 74, and his wife Tahira, 68, who had been traveling with their 18 friends in Inner Mongolia, according to a family spokesman.
Government official in Ordos in China’s Inner Mongolia region, said the nine travelers were held over allegations they were watching terror-group propaganda videos, but didn’t give details.
The foreign tourists, however, denied the allegations, saying they were likely arrested “because of an unfortunate misunderstanding,” according to a spokesman for Hoosain and Tahira Jacobs, a couple with dual South African-British citizenship who were among the nine tourists held under criminal detention.
The nine travelers “watched a BBC documentary on Genghis Khan to further their understanding of the region they were in at the time, and this may have mistakenly been deemed as ‘propaganda’ material,” the spokesman said Saturday in an emailed statement. He said the tour group had visited the Genghis Khan Mausoleum in Ordos a day before the arrests.
“It can only be assumed that junior officials who made the initial arrest in Inner Mongolia made a mistake, due to perhaps their unfamiliarity of the English language,” the spokesman said. No one in the tour group—comprising men and women aged between 33 and 74, and of Christian, Islamic and Hindu faiths—has any criminal record, he said.
No reasons were given for the arrest. Cellphones were confiscated, there was no access to the embassies of origin nor to their families. They were detained without charge with no access to any communication nor to legal representation.
The Chinese, now trying to find reasons for the detention, suggested that some members were linked to a terror group, to a banned organization, to watching propaganda videos in their hotel room.
The BBC noted that South Africa’s foreign affairs minister, Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, said the country’s deputy president, Cyril Ramaphosa, had been in the country on an official visit and took up the case with his Chinese counterparts.