China SA arrests for suspected espionage - FF Plus

2015-07-16 07:41

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Johannesburg - The South Africans detained in China were arrested for suspected espionage, the Freedom Front Plus said on Thursday.

"While the government is drawing a veil over the matter and deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa is denying that he is personally dealing with the matter on the highest level in China, the FF Plus’s information is that the people in group had been arrested for suspected espionage," police and state security spokesperson Pieter Groenewald said in a statement.

"The South African government does not want to be dragged into yet another international scandal. It should immediately play open cards about the real reasons why a group of South Africans in China was arrested and detained."

The party's information was that advanced technological equipment, which could be used for espionage and which could spy on data and servers, had been found with some of the individuals in the tour group.

"Nobody has been formally charged as yet," Groenewald said.

Death penalty

On Wednesday, Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, who is currently on a state visit to China, said he was aware of the South African nationals who were detained by the Chinese government.

Ramaphosa, however, said the matter was being dealt with by the Department of International Relations and Co-operation (Dirco).

"They are dealing with the matter. We are hoping that there will be a solution as time goes on. So that matter is being handled," Ramaphosa told reporters at a media briefing in Beijing.

"We think it is best to leave it at that level because the Chinese officials as well as our department of international relations are dealing with the matter, actively on an hour by hour basis."

Groenwald said the situation was extremely serious as the punishment for espionage in China was the death penalty.

"The fact that the Chinese authorities did not inform the SA government of the arrests in terms of diplomatic protocols raises further concerns," he said.

"South Africa is still staggering from the FIFA Soccer World Cup scandal which is still being investigated by the FBI and the Omar al-Bashir debacle. Now this. We are fast losing face in the eyes of the world. In this instance, the relevant country, China, is a senior Brics trade partner and indeed for many years South Africa’s biggest trade partner."

The ANC government would soon realise that it was not so easy to silence and ignore international scandals, as had been the case with Nkandla, he said.

"It is in the public’s interest that they reveal the truth about this incident as soon as possible."

Arrested for distributing 'terrorist' materials

On Thursday, a Chinese official told news agency AFP that a group of foreigners had been detained for distributing "terrorist" materials.

"Foreign tourists have been detained by the police here, I heard they looked at and propagated something about violence and terrorism," Zhang Xi, an official at Ordos's foreign affairs office told AFP.

According to NGO Gift of the Givers, the 10 South Africans were part of a foreign tour group who were on a 47 day journey when they and 10 others were arrested at Erdos Airport on Friday morning.

Five of the South Africans, along with six British nationals, have since been given permission by Chinese authorities to leave the country.

On Wednesday, the NGO's founder Imtiaz Sooliman called for Ramaphosa's intervention.

"It is inconceivable that a government hosts another government on a state visit and simultaneously incarcerates 10 of its citizens without charge," he said.

"The Chinese must be told in no uncertain terms to provide the evidence and proof if the South Africans have terror links, charge them and take them to trial; alternatively, they must release them immediately and unconditionally.

"The conditions in the detention centre, apparently, are not good. Family members are extremely worried and want finality on the issue," he said.

Ramaphosa is leading a delegation to China on an official visit. The delegation arrived in the country on Monday and is expected to leave on Friday.

Sooliman said interventions by the South African and British governments had led to the five South African and six British nationals being allowed to leave the country.

Though the 11 had been given permission to leave China, they would be held in detention until flights had been finalised for them out of China.  

Flights were confirmed for the five South Africans for Wednesday "but the Chinese stalled and said they cannot leave today in spite of their earlier assurances", Sooliman said.

"The five South Africans are now confirmed to fly out tomorrow [Thursday] if the Chinese don't stall them again, and are expected to land in South Africa on Friday."

The six British nationals, who left China on Wednesday, were expected to land in the United Kingdom on Thursday.

Five South Africans still not released

"We still have the problem of the other five South Africans, three British and one Indian national who are not free to leave and still have not been charged," Sooliman said.

"The family of the South African group are considering appointing a Chinese human rights lawyer to represent the family but to defend what, as no charges have been put to them."

He said information from China on Wednesday morning was disconcerting, as it appeared many of the top human rights lawyers have been arrested by the Chinese government. 

"No charges have been put to the group but the Chinese have been very vague, saying that someone in the group has some links to a suspected terror group and that someone has some links to a banned group and that the real reason for the incarceration is that someone was watching propaganda videos in the hotel," Sooliman said.

"We now have received information that the Chinese government has put out a statement saying that criminal charges will be put to the group.  We don't know what that means."

Vodacom has since confirmed the brother, aunt and uncle of the company's chief executive Shameel Joosub were among the five South Africans facing charges.

On Wednesday, international relations and co-operation department spokesperson Nelson Kgwete said in a radio interview: "Judging by the status of the incident, it is still being managed by the embassy."

Kgwete confirmed that the five South Africans released were expected to arrive home on Friday.

Read more on:    dirco  |  ff plus  |  gift of the givers  |  cyril ramaphosa  |  china
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