China allegedly held tourists for watching Genghis Khan video

BEIJING (AFP) - Tourists who were held in China after being accused of looking at "terrorist" materials were detained after they viewed a documentary on Genghis Khan, a spokesman for two members of the group said.

A total of 20 visitors from South Africa, Britain and India were held at Ordos airport in China's northern Inner Mongolia region on Friday last week, sparking diplomatic concern.

Six Britons and five South Africans have already been released, while the remaining nine tourists are expected to be deported in the coming days, officials in South Africa and at the British Embassy in Beijing said.

Meanwhile, a statement released by a British-based spokesman for two of the group, Hoosain Jacobs and Tahira Jacobs - who hold dual UK and South African nationality but travelled with South African passports - claims all the tourists have been released without charge.

It also said the detentions may have been made after an "unfortunate misunderstanding" concerning Genghis Khan, a 13th century Mongolian warrior hero who founded an empire from eastern Europe to the South China Sea.

"They watched a documentary 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 statement said.

"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."

The group were on a "deluxe sight-seeing tour of China" which was expected to last 47 days, starting in the former British colony of Hong Kong and ending in the commercial hub of Shanghai, the statement said.

They were arrested 30 days into the tour, following a visit to the Genghis Khan Mausoleum at Ordos, it said, adding that those involved were aged between 33 and 74.

An official at Ordos' foreign affairs office told AFP on Thursday that he understood the group "looked at and propagated something about violence and terrorism."

Local police declined to comment on the case.

Gift of the Givers, a humanitarian relief organisation based in South Africa which was assisting members of the group, had previously said in a statement that the detentions took place after claims that "someone was watching propaganda videos in the hotel".

China has launched a wide-ranging crackdown on what it claims is "terrorism" in its restive western Xinjiang region.

A new criminal law submitted last month to China's rubber-stamp parliament widens the list of activities which can be defined as "terrorism", state media said.

Resource-rich Inner Mongolia region sees sporadic protests by Mongols against government policies which include moving nomadic herders from grazing lands into towns, and vast coalmine development.