‘We did nothing wrong’

SA tourists deny signing confessions to secure release from China

A SHORT clip of the 10 best Westerns and a documentary on the life of Genghis Khan was all it took for a group of South African tourists to be branded as terrorists.

In a move seen as an attempt to save face over a “misunderstanding”, China’s official news agency, Xinhua, reported yesterday that Chinese authorities released five South Africans only after they signed confessions admitting to “advocating terrorism”.

The five – Pretoria couple Hoosain Jacobs and his wife, Tahira, along with Salim Joosub – the brother of Vodacom chief executive Shameel Joosub – and Midrand doctors Feroz Suliman and Shehnaaz Mohamed, were among 10 South Africans on a 47-day tour of China when they were arrested in Mongolia last week.

They were part of a tour group of 20, which included Britons and an Indian.

The Xinhua report is the most detailed official explanation yet provided by the Chinese authorities on the detentions, which led to an intervention by Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa to help secure their release.

Ramaphosa was in China on an official state visit when the tourists were arrested as they were about to board a plane at Ordos airport in Inner Mongolia 10 days ago.

Police told Xinhua that the tourists first watched a documentary in a hotel room.

“After some of them left, the rest proceeded to watch video clips advocating terrorism,” they said.

Police said they seized similar videos from a cellphone belonging to Jacobs.

Xinhua said five South Africans, three Britons and one Indian were held on suspicion of organising, leading or joining terrorist groups. They “admitted to their illegal acts and repented”.

The report said police imposed a “lenient sentence of deportation”.

The five South Africans arrived at OR Tambo International Airport on Saturday, a day after the arrival of the other South Africans on the tour.

Jacobs, an Umkhonto weSizwe veteran, dismissed the report as rubbish.

“We never confessed to anything. Nothing like that happened at all,” he said.

“What has been said [about us belonging to terrorist organisations] is completely wrong. It’s false . . . It is fairly obvious our group would not have been released by senior Chinese officials had we done anything wrong.”

Jacobs, 74, said he was relieved the ordeal was over. A family spokesman said they were well-treated by police.

A government source with knowledge of the negotiations said: “The Chinese are clearly trying to save face, from what has been a huge and clearly embarrassing event.”

The family spokesman said there may have been “unfortunate misunderstanding” concerning the famed Mongolian warlord, Genghis Khan.

“They watched a documentary on Khan to further their understanding of the region . . . A group also viewed a clip on one of their laptops which rated the 10 best Westerns.”

Peng Pan, a spokesman for the Chinese embassy in South Africa, was unavailable to comment.

– Graeme Hosken, Additional reporting by AFP

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