China Detains 20 Foreign Tourists for Watching 'Terror Video'

China Detains 20 Foreign Tourists for Watching 'Terror Video' 

China has arrested 20 foreign tourists who were traveling the country as part of a trip sponsored by a South Africa-based religious humanitarian organization, the group said Wednesday.

In a Facebook post, the Gift of the Givers organization said the 10 South Africans, nine Britons, and one Indian national were arrested at the Erdos Airport in China's Inner Mongolia on Friday.

Eleven of the tourists have been released, the statement said, adding nine others remain detained without charge for watching unspecified propaganda videos.

"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 statement said.

The disaster relief agency, which says it has worked in 41 countries, says the tourists had no terror links and no criminal record in their country, but were part of a 47-day tour "to explore ancient China."

South African and British Embassy officials are meeting with Chinese foreign ministry officials to resolve the matter, the group said. Chinese officials have not commented on the detention.

China tightly regulates foreign missionary and, increasingly, foreign charity-based activities. Beijing also has arrested and charged Uighur Muslims and others who watched or shared videos deemed inappropriate by the government.

The British Embassy cited a British Foreign Office a statement that said nine Britons and two dual British-South African nationals had been detained in northern China and that it was “seeking further clarification” on the reason. It said British consular staff members had visited the group and were talking with Chinese authorities.

The embassy said six of those detained were likely to be deported soon

BEIJING—Chinese police have detained 20 foreign tourists from South Africa, the U.K. and India as they passed through the northern region of Inner Mongolia, according to Chinese and British officials and a relative of some of those detained.

China’s Foreign Ministry said Wednesday that the foreign nationals were arrested last week in the city of Ordos over “suspicions of criminal wrongdoing.” Its statement didn’t give details on specific allegations. Local public-security officials are holding nine of the tourists under criminal detention as investigations continue, while the other 11 will be deported, the ministry said. It didn’t give the identities and nationalities of the foreigners.

The tourists—comprising 10 South Africans, nine Britons and one Indian national—were visiting ancient Chinese sites on a 1½-month tour when they were arrested Friday morning at the airport in Ordos, according to a relative of three of the tourists.

Members of the tour group have been accused of watching a propaganda video, according to Shameel Joosub, chief executive of Vodacom Group, the South African arm of U.K. telecommunications giant Vodafone Group PLC. He said his uncle, aunt and brother were among the nine tourists under criminal detention, along with two other South Africans, three Britons and one Indian national.

Chinese authorities “suggested that some members [of the tour group] were linked to a terror group [and were] watching propaganda videos in their hotel room,” according to Gift of the Givers Foundation, a South African disaster-response nonprofit that has been assisting some families of those detained.

Gift of the Givers—which has assisted in international hostage negotiations involving South African nationals—got involved after relatives of some of the tourists sought help from the charity, said its founder, Imtiaz Sooliman. According to its website, the group provides emergency relief and medical care, among other services, in disaster and conflict zones including in Syria, Somalia and Haiti.

Mr. Sooliman said the charity has no links to any of those detained or to their relatives.

China’s Foreign Ministry said it couldn’t confirm the precise reasons for the tourists’ detention, while the Ministry of Public Security didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. A spokesman for the Ordos public-security bureau declined immediate comment.

The U.K. Foreign and Commonwealth Office confirmed that nine British nationals and two people with dual U.K. and South African citizenship “were detained in northern China,” of whom six have been deported.

“Consular staff have visited the group to provide assistance and we are liaising with Chinese authorities,” an FCO spokeswoman said in a brief statement.

Efforts to reach the South African Embassy in Beijing for comment weren’t immediately successful. A spokesman for the Indian Embassy in Beijing said staff there were still awaiting information from Chinese authorities.

According to Gift of the Givers, the six deported British nationals are expected to arrive in the U.K. by Thursday, while the other five tourists facing deportation—all South Africans—are expected to return home by Friday.

The detentions coincided with a state visit by South African Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, who arrived in China on Monday for a five-day trip.

—Lilian Lin and Kersten Zhang contributed to this article.

Write to Chun Han Wong at

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