China detains 20 foreigners from South Africa, UK, India

BEIJING (AP) — A group of 20 travelers from Britain, South Africa and India were detained in northern China, a relative said Wednesday. A South African aid group said some of them are accused of watching videos deemed to be terrorist propaganda.

The Foreign Ministry said 20 foreign nationals were suspected of committing crimes in Ordos in China's Inner Mongolia region. It said nine were criminally detained on Saturday, which means they can be held for up to 37 days by police while investigations continue, and 11 were ordered deported.

The British embassy in Beijing confirmed that nine Britons and two dual British-South African nationals had been detained, and said six of them had been deported. It said it was "seeking further clarification" from authorities about those still being held.

The group was initially detained Friday at the airport in Ordos and was being held without charge, said Shameel Joosub, a relative of three of the detained people and CEO of South African telecommunications company Vodacom.

"My family and I are deeply concerned for the safety and well-being of my brother, aunt and uncle," Joosub said in a statement emailed to The Associated Press.

Imtiaz Sooliman, a South African disaster response specialist, said in a statement on the Facebook page of his agency, Gift of the Givers, that the detainees were part of a group of 20 people — 10 South Africans, nine Britons and one Indian — who were on a 47-day tour of ancient Chinese sites.

Sooliman said nine members of the group were accused of watching terror propaganda in their hotel rooms and that they would continue to be detained.

Sooliman said in a phone interview that a relative of some of the detained had contacted him to look into the case and that he was in close contact with South African authorities. He said the group had been heading from Ordos to the central Chinese city of Xi'an when they were detained at the airport.

The news of the detentions came as South African Vice President Cyril Ramaphosa was in Beijing on a trip to China that lasts until Friday. He met with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang on Tuesday. The African News Agency quoted International Relations Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane as saying in Pretoria that Ramaphosa would use the rest of his visit to press for the release of the remaining South Africans.

Asked to confirm whether South Africans, Britons and an Indian citizen had been detained Friday at Ordos airport, a press officer at the Ordos police bureau said the case was under investigation and refused to give details.

The Indian Embassy in Beijing did not immediately respond to a request for comment.