BEIJING: A Chinese court has extended by two months the detention of 21 Indians, who were captured from the southern city of Shenzhen in January this year on charges of smuggling diamonds worth USD 7.3 million.
Indian diplomats here said that a court in Shenzhen, where the Indians were detained along with 33 other foreigners, extended their detention period at the request of investigators.
The 21 traders from Gujarat and Mumbai were accused of smuggling diamonds worth around Rs 34 crore from Hong Kong. Officials of the Indian Embassy here as well as those from the Indian Consulate in Guangzhou were in touch with the Chinese authorities and also the detained traders to secure their release.
According to the Chinese law, those committing criminal offences can be held in prolonged detention without trial.
The issue figured in talks with the India’s External Affairs Minister,Mr S M Krishna had with his Chinese counterpart, Mr Yang Jiechi during his visit here in April. Since then, families of the traders have been allowed to meet them.
As concerns mounted over their prolonged detention, there is a sense of disquiet among the officials about the future course of action in view of the Chinese government’s reluctance to discuss the issue other than asserting that it was a legal matter which was being dealt according to law.
Indian officials are hesitant to press for the release of traders against the backdrop of the stubborn way the Chinese government convicted Akmal Sheikh, a Pakistan-born British businessman arrested for drug-trafficking, and Stern Hu, an executive of Australian mining giant Rio Tinto, disregarding appeals from the British and Australian governments.
There is hesitation even to press for an early trial because matters could get worse if the traders are given tough sentences.
The families of the detained traders, meanwhile, complained of harsh conditions at the detention facility. The traders, who are followers of Jain religion, complained of improper access to vegetarian food.Indian officials said the issue has been taken up at various levels and hope to see some positive results in the coming weeks.