An elderly British couple have spent a week behind bars in Inner Mongolia over an “unfortunate misunderstanding” after they were accused of terror links.
The couple aged 74 and 68 from Middlesex were halfway through a luxury 47-day sightseeing tour of China with their friends when they were arrested by authorities at the airport. The couple were accused of watching a terrorist video in their hotel room, it was in fact a BBC documentary.
A spokesman for the couple said: “They watched a BBC documentary video 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.”
The group of British, South African and Indian tourists – 20 in all – were detained. Eleven, including four Britons, were quickly released, while nine more were held until yesterday.
The group had their cell phones confiscated and were not given communication rights for two days before staff from their embassy were allowed to visit them.
“They watched the documentary on Genghis Khan to further their understanding of the region, and this may have mistakenly been deemed as ‘propaganda’ material,” the Jacobs family’s statement read.
“It can only be assumed that junior officials who made the initial arrest in Inner Mongolia made a mistake, due to perhaps their unfamiliarity of the English language.”
There is still no confirmation of why the group, made up of mostly elderly middle-class professionals, was detained at Ordos Airport shortly on July 10.
They were released after lengthy diplomatic negotiations.
A spokesman for the Foreign Office last night said it had been assured about the “health and treatment” of the couple and another unnamed British tourist who was held.
Imtiaz Sooliman, from South Africa’s Gift of the Givers charity which campaigned for the release, praised the intervention of Cyril Ramaphosa, the South African deputy president who was on a state visit to China this week.
“When you get locked up for no reason, it breaks your morale, your spirit, your faith in humanity and in the country,” he said. “The fact that they can be released and that our government played its part makes me extremely happy.”