Government 'concerned' as more than 800 South Africans serve time in foreign prisons

2018-12-14 13:19
Tristan-Lee Niemand.

Tristan-Lee Niemand. (Facebook)

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More than 800 – that is the number of South Africans being held in prisons abroad for a variety of crimes and administrative blunders.

The Department of International Relations and Cooperation (Dirco) said in a statement that the South African government was "concerned" about the growing number of South Africans detained abroad.

"More than 800 South Africans are in prisons across the world for visa-related violations, drug-related charges, as well as various other offences.

"As we approach the festive season, the Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, Lindiwe Sisulu, has expressed serious concern about South Africans being arrested or detained across the world as a result of these offences."

Earlier this week, News24 reported that would-be teacher Tristan-Lee Niemand, 19, has been held in a Chinese prison for almost a month.

Arrested for incorrect visa

Niemand, who was planning to teach English in the country, was reportedly arrested on November 16 for having the incorrect visa to teach English in the city of Nanjing.

In June, the Chinese government released 51 aspiring South African teachers who were stranded in the country after being scammed.

Some of the teachers had been in the country since June 2017 and others since April this year.

READ: SA woman jailed in China for almost a month after going to teach English

The group had been held in China to testify against their agent, who had brought them from South Africa to teach in Asia.

Sisulu said of the more than 800 South Africans who are in prisons across the world, around 21% are in South America detained for drug-related charges.

"Over 98 South Africans were detained in China for visa-related violations during the past six months. At this stage, 23 of them remain in detention in China while police investigations are continuing," Sisulu said.

No contact with family

Referring to Niemand, Sisulu said the department "has been informed that she entered China on a short-stay study visa".

"She was arrested...on suspicion of working illegally in China by teaching English. The investigation by the Chinese Public Security Bureau into her case is still continuing.

"Chinese regulations in force in the Jiangsu province determine that no consular visits or telephone calls are allowed to detainees while the matter is still under investigation."

Niemand has reportedly not had any contact with her East London-based family since her arrest.

"Dirco is in regular contact with her mother and will keep the family informed of any developments. Unfortunately, consular assistance does not mean that Dirco can get South African citizens out of detention and neither can the department intervene in the judicial process in China."

Sisulu called on travelling South Africans to register with Dirco or with the South African diplomatic missions abroad and ensure that they have the right travelling documents.

READ: Race on to rescue 51 scammed South Africans trapped in China


"It is very disconcerting that many South Africans are being arrested or detained abroad.

"We call on South Africans to make sure that they have the right travelling documents and correct visas where applicable. They should also know the location and contact details of the South African embassies, high commissions and consulates in the countries they are visiting," Sisulu said.

The minister added that she had tasked the department's director general to ensure that all South Africans who are arrested across the world receive consular assistance and that Dirco's consular services division and South Africa's diplomatic missions abroad make every effort to keep in touch with affected South Africans and their families.

The minister added that she would engage her Chinese counterpart on the number of young South Africans being arrested and detained in China.

"Young people who seek to teach in China must make sure that they consult the Chinese embassy and verify the agents who are arranging their travel. The responsibility to ensure they have the correct visa for working abroad still rests with the individual."

ALSO READ: Diplomacy could save life of SA man sentenced to death in Vietnam

Read more on:    dirco  |  china  |  east london  |  prisons

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