An Indian was among a group of foreign tourists detained last weekend in the Northern Chinese province of Inner Mongolia on unspecified charges that could include terrorism.
The Indian, identified as Rajiv Mohan Kulshrestha was picked along with the others on July 11 and is said to be kept in detention at least for a week.
“A group of 20 foreign tourists including an Indian national, Britons and South Africans, have been arrested in China on the suspicion that some of them had ties to a "terror group,”’ Reuters news agency said quoting a South African charity, Gift of the Givers Foundation.
The information about Kulshrestha’s detention was formally conveyed to the Indian embassy in Beijing on Wednesday, four days after he was detained.
Officials here have sought consular access to him, currently held in detention centre in the Inner Mongolian city of Ordos.
Chinese authorities have shared sketchy details with Indian diplomats till now; only alleging that the Indian was detained because he “broke the law”. No other detail about the nature of his crime was shared.
While reports claimed that those detained were watching "propaganda videos" from terror groups, Indian officials said no details were shared.
According to officials here, the immediate focus is to meet Kulshrestha “as soon as possible”.
Indian officials will soon fly to Ordos to meet him.
In a written response to HT, the Chinese ministry of foreign affairs did not specify what law Kulshrestha — or the others — had broken. “It is found that 20 foreigners got involved in an illegal crime in Ordos, Inner Mongolia,” it said.
But official sources in New Delhi said the Beijing mission was told Kulshrestha was detained under Chinese criminal law on charges related to “organising, leading or participating in activities of a terrorist organisation”. The mission has sought consular access, they added.
“The Chinese have been very vague saying someone in the group has some links to a suspected terror group and that someone has links to a banned group and that the real reason for the incarceration is that someone was watching propaganda videos in the hotel,” the charity said in a statement.
If the charges against Kulshrestha do include terrorism, it would probably be the first time an Indian citizen has been charged under such laws in China.
When contacted, the British embassy emailed a formal and brief statement on the issue.
“Nine British nationals, and two dual British-South African nationals were detained in northern China. Six have been deported. The remainder are still detained. Consular staff have visited the group to provide assistance and we are liaising with Chinese authorities,” said the statement attributable to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office spokesperson.
The statement added that the British officials were seeking “further clarifications” from Chinese authorities on the reasons behind the detention.
According to Reuters, the group was on a 47-day tour of the country when they were detained at an airport in the Inner Mongolian city of Ordos. “Their tour operator realised something had gone ‘horribly wrong’ on Sunday, two days later, the foundation said, when he hadn't heard from them.”
The Gift of the Givers Foundation identifies itself as “the largest disaster relief organisation of African origin on the African continent,” according to its website, and claims to have delivered millions in aid across the world.
Incidentally, what could add to the sensitivity of the incident with the involvement of a South African charity is that the South African Vice-President, Cyril Ramaphosa, is in Beijing on an official tour.
"We hope to enhance capacity cooperation with South Africa, and carry out technology exchanges and personnel training," Premier Li Keqiang told him in a meeting.
The South African embassy did not respond to questions on the incident.