Africa · China · South Africa

The strange case of China’s arrest of British and South African tourists last week

So after threatening stock traders and arresting over 100 human rights lawyers and activists two weeks ago, China decided to move onto new targets – tourists. Last Tuesday (China time), I saw rather bizarre news about a group of British and South African tourists being arrested in Inner Mongolia in China. What was strange was how little coverage it got with short articles in Sky News and the Independent being the only sources of info. On Wednesday, the Guardian reported on it and eventually the BBC. It was never breaking news or the headline story.

The more details there were, the more disturbing the incident seemed. The 20 tourists were a bunch of mostly senior folks, some doctors and executives, who were on a 47-day organized trip around China, but the authorities claimed they were suspected them of having “links with terrorism.” There was no specific details then, but the Chinese authorities kept insisting these people did something involving “terrorism” by “watching propaganda videos.” In addition, though the news had been reported on Tuesday, these people had been detained the previous Friday suddenly at the airport in the city of Erdos and they were not allowed to contact their embassies or anybody else. Their tour agency became suspicious over the weekend after not hearing from them and sent somebody to Ordos check on them Monday.

As the incident dragged on, no proper details were given by the authorities other than the tourists had been doing something related to terrorism. It turned out the terrorist activity the tourists had been doing was watching videos in their hotel. A spokesman for two of the detained said they had been watching a documentary on Genghis Khan. Yes, he was a terror to China… over 800 years ago. Some of the tourists were Muslim and had Islamic surnames and were members of a South African charity, which might have aroused attention from the Chinese authorities for whom even charities and religious organizations are suspect bodies. It seems the Chinese authorities had made a big mistake though they of course refused to admit. The tourists were eventually deported, 11 of them on July 15 and the rest on the 17th.

To get the Chinese official stance, read this http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/2015-07/18/c_134424744.htm.
I certainly don’t find it convincing in the least.
“According to the police investigation, the foreigners first watched a documentary in a hotel room. After some of them left, the rest proceeded to watch video clips advocating terrorism. Police later found similar videos stored in a cell phone belonging to Hoosain Ismail Jacobs, a South African national.
The police detained five South Africans, three British nationals and an Indian national on July 11 in accordance with China’s criminal law which stipulates punishment for “allegedly organizing, leading or joining terrorist groups.”
All the detainees admitted to their illegal acts and repented.”
The whole incident raises a lot of questionable issues.
First, the fact the authorities arrested these people on watching a video in their hotel room meant the tourists were being spied upon, which is a disturbing case.

Second, the fact these tourists were arrested for basically watching a video shows people from other countries can be arrested for the flimsiest of reasons in China.

Third, the Chinese authorities never clarified exactly what the tourists had done. If the tourists had been watching “clips advocating terrorism,” which is very vague, the authorities should have specified what clips were being watched and should have said that at the start rather than vague claims about terrorist links.

Fourth, during this entire time, the case, which seemed like a major diplomatic incident, attracted little attention from the international media and the governments of the countries involved. Neither the UK or the South African government spoke out about this. It’s strange when you consider one country arrested 20 tourists, most of whom were seniors, suddenly and held them for days, all the time without specifying details or legitimate reasons. Of course, all the tourists were allowed to leave and the lack of official criticism and media attention probably helped, but it’s absurd that a country can be allowed to get away with such flippant abuse of foreigners.

I wonder if this is the end of it or will it have repercussions in future.

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8 thoughts on “The strange case of China’s arrest of British and South African tourists last week

  1. Pff this sucks. I kind of hoped human and social rights would improve in the future in China, but the truth is that they seem to go backwards… Did you hear about the “report any suspicious foreigners you see”? Hello, Cultural Revolution, I see you are back…

    I also hoped the internet would gradually be faster and less censored, and that also seems to be worsening instead of improving… It really is a pity.

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    1. Yeah, it really does. You’re right, the rights situation is going backwards which is especially ridiculous as the country is supposedly getting more prosperous (at least up to a year ago).
      I did, I read something about a hotline and even a reward for reporting “troublesome” foreigners. That is kind of creepy. One of my expat ex-colleagues, a longtime Beijing resident, also mentioned that things are getting a little like the Cultural Revolution.
      The Internet censorship and the slow speed, esp when using a VPN, really bugged me a lot.
      Unfortunately, I feel these things won’t improve in the near term. You know much more than me about China, but I just have one suggestion – keep a watch on the economy, if it continues to worsen, the authorities might get more extreme.

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    1. Yeah, it’s very worrying how the authorities did that without anybody else knowing for days. Nobody should experience that on vacation especially.

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    1. Yeah, the whole incident seemed like BS and anti-foreigner paranoia (watching videos on a laptop constitutes terrorism according to the authorities).

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