Dirco is dealing with SA nationals held in China - Ramaphosa

2015-07-15 19:51
Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa.

Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa. (GCIS)

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Johannesburg - Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, who is currently on a state visit to China, said on Wednesday he was aware of the group of South African nationals who were imprisoned 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," he said. 

According to the NGO, Gift of the Givers, 10 South Africans had initially been part of a group of foreigners who were arrested but five had since been released.

Earlier, founder of the NGO, 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. 

Chinese must provide proof

"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 entered the country on Monday and is expected to leave on Friday.

Sooliman said out of the 10 South Africans, among a total of 20 arrested, interventions by the South African and British governments had led to five South Africans and six British nationals being allowed to leave the country.

The 20 arrested were part of a 47-strong party touring China. They were arrested at Erdos Airport on Friday morning.  

"Representatives of the three governments met in Erdos, Inner Mongolia, where protracted discussions took place but no formal charges were put to any of the 20 detainees," Sooliman said.

Though 11 out of the 20 would be released, it meant they would still 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.

Five South Africans released, will be home by Friday

"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 are expected to leave China on Wednesday and land in the United Kingdom on Thursday.

"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."

Earlier on Wednesday, international relations and co-operation spokesperson, Nelson Kgwete, said: "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:    gift of the givers  |  cyril ramaphosa  |  china  |  pretoria

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