China has detained a group of 20 tourists from South Africa, Britain and India, after they were accused of watching videos that were judged to be terrorist propaganda. Several have already been deported.
The UK’s embassy in Beijing confirmed on Tuesday that nine Britons and two dual nationality British-South African travelers had been detained. It said that six of them had been deported.
The embassy said it was still “seeking further clarification” about those still being held by authorities.
The group was first detained on Friday at an airport in Ordos, in China’s Inner Mongolia region. No reasons were given for the detentions, according to the charity Gift of the Givers, which has been communicating on behalf of those who were held.
According to the charity, representatives of the three foreign governments had held talks in Ordos, with 11 to be deported or already having been deported. However, the group said on its Facebook page, five of the South Africans, three of the British and an Indian national remain in detention without charge.
“No charges have been put to the group, but the Chinese have been very vague saying that someone in the group has some links to a suspected terror group,” said a Gift of the Givers statement.
It was also alleged that a member of the group had been watching the alleged propaganda videos in their hotel room.
Gift of the Givers tweeted a message of concern about the conditions in which the detainees were living.
‘No contact after arrest’
The tourists had been on a 47-day planned journey to explore ancient Chinese sites when they were arrested. Members of the group were given no contact with their embassies, Gift of the Givers said, adding that the fact that they had been detained only came to light through their tour operator.
The charity urged South Africa’s Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, who is visiting 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 taking place. “The matter has been raised at the highest level possible, taking advantage of the deputy president’s presence in China” she said.
The Chinese government recently extended a year-long nationwide crackdown on “terrorism” that was in place after a string of violent incidents blamed on Islamist separatists from the mainly Muslim region of Xinjiang. The ruling Communist party has, in recent months, tightened controls on foreigners working in the country.