Deportation to China feared

Apr. 7, 2006. 06:42 AM
Michael Mainville

A Burlington Muslim religious leader arrested in Uzbekistan for his past political activities is a respected community figure who was trying to bring three of his six children to Canada, friends say.
Huseyincan Celil, a human rights activist jailed for working on behalf of the Uighur population in China's northwest Xinjiang province before his 1998 escape, was arrested last month while trying to renew his visitor's visa in the neighbouring Uzbek capital of Tashkent.
Family and friends of Celil, a Canadian citizen since last year, fear he will be deported to China, where they say he faces certain death.
Mustafa Agtas and Ibrahim Ozcelik say they're worried about the friend they describe as quiet and polite.
"He's never done a bad thing," Ozcelik said.
"He's a good guy," Agtas added. "He's not a criminal."
Both want Canadian officials to work faster at getting him released. "Canada has a strong government. If they want to help, I think he will be saved," Agtas said.
Friends say Uzbek authorities have also taken the passports of Celil's wife Kamila and their three other children — all Canadian citizens — who are in Tashkent working for his release.
Celil's wife is frantic.
"China wants to take him," she said by telephone. "He can't go to China, because they will arrest and they will kill him."
Celil, 37, was sentenced in absentia to death by a Chinese court for founding a political party to work for the rights of the Uighur people.
Alexander Antonov, Canada's honorary consul in Tashkent, confirmed Celil is being held in an Uzbek prison.
"The reasons for his detention are still unclear," Antonov said. "We have not met with the detainee yet and we have no information from official sources regarding him. We hope to see him in the coming days."
Celil and his family, who arrived in Canada as refugees in 2001, settled in Hamilton where he became active in the Muslim community. The family moved to Burlington last year.
The imam often led prayers at the Hamilton mosque. "He has a beautiful voice," Ozcelik said. "When he talks you listen."
Celil also taught children at the mosque, Agtas added.
Although Celil started a new life in Canada, he often worried about the two sons and daughter he had to leave when fleeing China, Agtas said. "Some nights he couldn't sleep."
So Celil travelled with his wife and other three children to Tashkent last month in the hopes of reuniting with the rest of the family.
His wife insists Celil's only hope is a swift return to Canada.
"The Canadian government has to take him from Uzbekistan," she said. Dismissing Uzbek reassurances that Celil will not be returned to China, she said: "We are afraid, because we don't believe them. We are very afraid about that."
She has not been allowed to speak with her husband since his arrest. "They didn't allow it," she said.
According to friends in Canada, her telephone has been cut off and she can no longer make outgoing calls.

Michael Mainville is the Star's stringer in Russia.

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