Two British tourists could be trapped in China for a year after they were arrested for “disturbing the peace” following an argument with a shopkeeper.
Mary Idowu, 59, and Esther Jubril-Badmos, 48, both Londoners, have not been charged with any crime but have been told they cannot leave the country until Chinese investigators finish looking into their case. The two women flew to the southern city of Guangzhou for a week-long shopping trip on June 16. Ms Jubril-Badmos had been before but for Ms Idowu it was a first chance “to see this big country which I had always heard about”.
Things began to go wrong when Ms Jubril-Badmos argued with a shopkeeper about a deposit for slippers. She claims she was dragged out of the store by her hair and beaten so badly that Ms Idowu called the police.
At the police station, however, their situation unravelled further. After 32 hours of interrogation, the women were sent to a detention centre where Ms Idowu was held, sleeping on the floor in a 12-person cell, for six weeks. Ms Jubril-Badmos collapsed and was sent to a local hospital.
“The worst thing was the police trying to intimidate me to get me to sign forms in Chinese. I didn’t know what I was signing,” said Ms Idowu.
“They gave me tablets for my blood pressure. They kept increasing until I was taking 16 a day.” Her two daughters came to China to arrange bail. A policeman that they named as Mr Chen advised them that prosecutors had not found any evidence.
“He said it was now a civil case, that the shop wanted to sue, and that we had to go and settle it out of court,” said Ms Idowu’s daughter Laura, a 20-year-old law student.
The shop accepted $7775 in settlement. But the police later said the women remained under investigation, a process which could take up to a year.
“I have a five-year-old daughter at home who does not understand why her mother has abandoned her,” said Ms Jubril-Badmos. “My world has collapsed.”
A UK Foreign Office spokesman said it was providing consular assistance.