China Deports 20 Tourists for Watching Terror Videos in Hotel Room

A group of 20 tourists, from Britain, South Africa, India and other places have been deported from China for watching video clips promoting terrorism in their hotel room. China says they were terrorism clips.

The group, which included a 68 and 74 year old couple from London were on day 30 of a 47 day tour. They had visited the Genghis Kahn mauseleum in Ordos, Inner Mongolia. The next day they went to the airport to fly to the next leg of their trip (Xian), when they were detained and ultimately deported.

"The group is a mixture of multi-faith men and women from Islamic, Christian and Hindu religions who knew each other well and had travelled the world together in the past, including Israel and the USA.

What they had actually watched (not that it should make a difference what they watch in the privacy of their hotel room): a documentary on Mongol emperor Genghis Khan. [More...]

According to the Chinese news article, the elderly couple from London are South African, and while the police now say they did watch a documentary in their hotel, they say the husband had terror clips on his cell phone.

According to the police investigation, the foreigners first watched a documentary in a hotel room. After some of them left, the rest proceeded to watch video clips advocating terrorism. Police later found similar videos stored in a cell phone belonging to Hoosain Ismail Jacobs, a South African national.

According to the Jacobs family spokesman:

"While the experience was distressing in the first instance, they say they were looked after at all times and treated well.

Ordos, in Inner Mongolia, is not the sticks. It's a modern technological city that expanded before its time. Some have compared it to Dubai (it's massive coal reserves created lots of millionaires very quickly.)

China is very big on spying on people. From a post I wrote in 2004:

According to state media reports, Shanghai authorities are installing video surveillance cameras and software that can detect when a computer user reads a banned site and automatically send a message to a "remote supervisory center," presumably the police. (Associated Press, June 28, 2004.)

When I was in Shanghai in 2004, a lot of websites were blocked. One night I was in my hotel room when the internet connection went down. I called the front desk and within minutes, three men in black suits with skinny ties arrived, took my laptop and returned 5 minutes later -- internet restored. At the time I thought it was great hotel service. Later, I was sure they had wanted to see what sites I had visited online or what was stored on my computer.

Even so, it never would have occurred to me that China might deport someone because they didn't approve of their online viewing habits. A lesson for those who are traveling overseas this summer, and not just to China: Nothing's private and even the tiniest, harmless things can be drastically misunderstood. While deportation is preferable to
being tortured, jailed or executed, as might happen in some other places, it is still a ridiculously exaggerated reaction.

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  • Display: Sort:
    Mission accomplished (5.00 / 1) (#2)
    by Abdul Abulbul Amir on Sun Jul 19, 2015 at 10:27:36 AM EST

    The more arbitrary and apparently senseless the exercise of power, the more intimidating it is.  It's big brother writ large, We Know What You Are Watching.

    Jeralyn, this is an interesting, yet, (none / 0) (#1)
    by NYShooter on Sun Jul 19, 2015 at 04:20:15 AM EST
    perplexing story.

    It seems to have two distinctly different parts:
    the first innocuous, the second, intriguing.

    The first has the group simply watching a documentary on Mongol emperor, Genghis Khan. It doesn't say whether they watched on TV, or the internet. I'm assuming it was the internet. Anyway, that sounds pretty innocent, and, of no concern to the authorities. Good; no harm, no foul, so far, so good.


    The second part is where it gets very interesting, and, to me, very confusing.  

    The story says, after some of the group left the room, "The rest proceeded to watch video clips advocating terrorism." Were these videos being watched on the internet? If so, how were they even available? I was under the impression the Chinese censored "the Net" pretty stringently. Did those videos just slip through? Or, is it the authority's contention that, even though "illegal" videos are freely available, watching them constitutes a crime? Was it the authority's belief that the group purposely sought out those "illegal" videos?

    Then, there's the part about Hoosain Ismail Jacobs, the South African national. The police said that later they found similar videos stored in a cell phone belonging to Jacobs. But, the story doesn't say when, where, how, or even, why he had them?  If Jacobs had downloaded those videos to his phone, did he do it prior to the time of the Genghis Khan watching night? And, If so, as it seems, then watching "illegal" terrorist videos on the night they watched the documentary wasn't just an innocent, inadvertent viewing. They knew the videos were available, and they purposely looked for, and watched them. And, that was a crime, according to Chinese Law.

    Note: Please, don't misunderstand what I'm saying here. I think the Chinese law sucks, and, I'm glad they all got home safe and sound. I'm just trying to make sense of it.

    But, I guess what I don't understand is, deporting a couple of dozen foreign tourists is a pretty big deal. Doing something that draconian can't be good publicity for a country trying to join the league of modern, international nations. Tourism is a huge source of income for China, so somebody screwed up big time, it seems to me. The confusing part is, if some low-level officials simply messed up, why did they go through with the deportation? But, if it was really a crime, why did they let them go?

    The phrase, terror video, is no where defined (none / 0) (#3)
    by Mr Natural on Sun Jul 19, 2015 at 11:07:23 AM EST
    nor are any particulars particularly evident.

    For all we know, what they've labeled "terror video" could have been CNN news reports on Uyghur or Tibetan Separatists.  If you've been looking at news on your phone, they could sit there indefinitely.  That's a hazard of using devices of which most people have little or no understanding.  

    I Was Wondering the Same Thing... (none / 0) (#5)
    by ScottW714 on Mon Jul 20, 2015 at 01:01:15 PM EST
    ...as I routinely scroll through news stories on my phone before sleeping.  I have 6 different apps, from local news to the BBC.  Often there are links to videos.

    But as shooter mentioned, how were they able to look at videos, presumably, the state would have blocked ?  They would have to have been stored, which is just as odd in that most streaming places do not allow you to download the video.  I am sure it can be done, but it's not available to your average user.

    It's not just 2 people, 20 people on the same tour.  Surely they all searched and looked at the same thing, probably something they wanted more information from the tour.  It can't be coincidence, they didn't all look at different terrorist related videos, no way.

    I would be livid if my tour was cut 17 days short.  For two people thats probably around $10k and I wonder if China arranged and paid for the flight, or if they had to.


    But -- say so many (even here) -- (none / 0) (#4)
    by sj on Sun Jul 19, 2015 at 05:14:47 PM EST
    "if you think you have privacy you are fooling yourself, and anyway, I don't have anything to hide."

    Or something.

    Society has been effectively desensitized to the true intrusiveness of the surveillance state. And anyone who thinks that this level of intrusiveness couldn't happen here are those who are really fooling themselves.

    As I think about this, I think about all the people that say the NSA et al are collecting so much data there is no way they can analyze it. China's population is 1.3 billion people and this didn't take long for them to act upon. Stipulated: China makes no pretense of having civil liberties.

    SITE VIOLATOR (none / 0) (#7)
    by CaptHowdy on Tue Jul 28, 2015 at 07:49:10 AM EST