They were arrested in a raid by customs authorities on January 8

The families of 22 Indian traders, who were detained in the southern port city of Shenzhen in January, have urged Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao to expedite the judicial process and help to resolve the case when he arrives in India on Wednesday on a three-day visit.

“Amid this crisis situation, the visit of Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao presents a glimmer of hope to our weary eyes,” a statement issued by some of the family members said.

The traders were arrested in a raid by the customs authorities on January 8. They were held on the charge of diamond smuggling, and for evading customs duties, local prosecutors say. The traders have, however, not yet been formally charged with any crime. Prosecutors say investigations are still on.

The long wait has left many of the families in Shenzhen, mostly from Mumbai and Gujarat, with financial strains, the family members told The Hindu.

The families are urging the Chinese government to treat the case as a commercial violation and release the traders after allowing them to pay the necessary financial penalties.

“None of the 22 detained hold any criminal record, and as such they should be let off at the most with the required penalties,” the statement said. “We plead [with] the Indian and Chinese governments to help us release them at the earliest.”

Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao raised the issue during talks with Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Zhijun in Beijing last month. “We should find a way now to have these people released,” Ms. Rao said then. “[Whether] they have to pay whatever fines, we should sort out [the issue]. The health of some of [the traders] is not so good.”

Ms. Rao said last month that the two countries would explore arriving at a transfer of sentenced person's agreement soon, to handle such cases in future. Officials from both sides have discussed such an agreement in recent weeks in the run-up to Mr. Wen's visit.

Chinese officials have released little information about the status of the case.

Asked whether the issue would figure at the talks this week, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Jiang Yu said on Tuesday: “I cannot predict what kind of issues will come up during discussions, but I believe they will exchange views on promoting bilateral relations, and on regional and international issues of common interest in an extensive manner.”

The wife of one of those arrested told The Hindu that the 11-month wait, and the uncertainty, had taken a toll on the traders and their families, both financially and medically. Many of those arrested are from the Jain community and are vegetarians. Some were said to be in poor health.

The families have been allowed three visits to the Mei Li detention centre in Shenzhen. “We are very thankful to the Chinese authorities for going out of their way to arrange family visits and take good care of the detainees,” the statement said.

During Diwali, the detention centre provided the traders with Indian food and also arranged a screening of Shahrukh Khan's Chak De! India.