Paranoia in China
A“misunderstanding” by overzealous Chinese police over a documentary on Genghis Khan is understood to have led to the detention of 10 South African travellers to China, the last of whom were set to be released without charge and deported home last night. A UK-based spokesperson for the family of Hoosain Jacobs (74) and his wife, Tahira (68), who were part of the 20-member tour group arrested in Ordos, Inner Mongolia, last week, said the incident was believed to have been sparked by paranoid police in the politically sensitive region.
The spokesperson, who did not want to be identified, said the tourists were arrested on July 10, which was day 30 of the 47-day tour – and the day after they visited the Genghis Khan Mausoleum in Ordos.
They were stopped as they were about to board a plane for Xi’an in Shaanxi Province, the next stop on their tour.
“They 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. It can only be assumed that junior officials who made the initial arrest in Inner Mongolia made a mistake, due to perhaps their unfamiliarity with the English language,” the spokesperson said.
Yesterday, South African diplomatic officials said they expected that the remaining five detainees – Hoosain Ismail, Salim Aziz Joosub, brother of Vodacom CEO Shameel Joosub, surgeon Feroz Suliman, his doctor wife, Shenaaz Mohamed, and an unnamed traveller – would be released and put on a flight home.
“We can confirm that the remaining South Africans who had been detained were scheduled to be released today,” said department of international relations and cooperation spokesperson Nelson Kgatle.
“We are not sure as yet when they will be arriving here. It should be tomorrow [Sunday].”
The spokesperson for the Jacobs family – UK-based dual nationals who were travelling on South African passports on the Hong Kong-to-Shanghai tour organised by China Odyssey Tours – said senior Chinese police officials had resolved the “unfortunate misunderstanding” in a “swift manner”, for which the family was grateful.
He said they were “very happy and relieved” to hear the other nine tourists had been released and were expected home soon.
The family was “tired after their ordeal, but in good spirits”.
“While the experience was distressing, they say they were looked after at all times and treated well,” he said.
It is understood that Chinese authorities realised that the arrests were a mistake after five days of lobbying by department of international relations and cooperation officials, and after the issue was raised by Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, who was on a visit to China this week.
The family spokesperson thanked Ramaphosa, the department and the British and Indian governments for their intervention.