Burlington man back in China, faces death

By Daniel Nolan
The Hamilton Spectator
(Jun 27, 2006)

A Burlington man sentenced to death in China for human rights work there, now finds himself back in that country after being extradited from Uzbekistan.

Uzbekistan has informed Canada they have handed Huseyincan Celil, 37, over to China. His family was told of the development yesterday morning by the Department of Foreign Affairs.

The move has frightened his family and friends.

The father of six was sentenced to death in absentia for founding a political party to work on behalf of the Uyghur people in Xinjiang province.

Celil, who fled the Chinese province in the mid-1990s, came to Canada from Turkey in 2001 as a refugee, and is now a Canadian citizen.

"It's an unfortunate turn of events," said Hamilton lawyer Chris MacLeod, who is liaisoning between Celil's wife Kamila and the Canadian government. "It's reprehensible that he goes from Uzbekistan to China when we put everyone on notice that we wanted him back."

MacLeod said Celil's wife is not doing very well.

"She's very emotional about it, obviously," said MacLeod. "China's record with Uyghurs is pretty terrible, and they were pretty hard on Huseyincan last time before he escaped."

The whereabouts of Celil, who was arrested in March while visiting Uzbekistan, had been unknown to his family for the last two weeks. They went to visit him in prison in the capital of Tashkent, but were told he had been transferred or moved because his cell was being reconstructed. They were not told where he had been sent.

Apart from the death sentence, it is alleged Celil killed Chinese delegates while in Bishkak, the capital of Kyrgyzstan, in March 2000; and kidnapped Chinese delegates in June of that year.

MacLeod and friends say that is impossible because Celil was in Turkey in 2000 under the auspices of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. They believe the charges were trumped up because of his political work on behalf of the Uyghur people and to let China to get ahold of him.

His plight has drawn the attention of human rights groups across the globe, including Amnesty International.

Canada's Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay sent a diplomatic note to Uzbekistan demanding Celil's return.

Mississauga Liberal MP Paul Szabo, who has queried the government in Question Period about Celil's situation, called his falling into the hands of China a very grave situation.

"I think people can tell you that once you've been sentenced to death (in China) they don't wait too long to carry it out," he said. "It's time to say some prayers."

He said he has spoken to interim Liberal Leader Bill Graham and he is going to ensure the government has sent a diplomatic note to China on Celil.

Szabo didn't believe the Conservative government had done all it could to retrieve Celil from Uzbekistan and now must show its mettle in dealing with China.

"I can't imagine anything that would delay the government from taking the strongest stand possible," he said. "You have to fight this one big time, and if you didn't, what can you say to others Canadians abroad who get into some difficulty."

Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Kim Girtel said Canada is trying to confirm with China that Celil is in its hands.

She wouldn't say how hard it will press China for his return.

"It's step by step," Girtel said. "It's too early to speculate. We have to get confirmation from the Chinese authorities and from there go forward. At this time, it's premature. China is a big country. A very big country."

MacLeod called on Ottawa to send a parliamentary delegation to retrieve Celil from Uzbekistan and he reiterated that for China.

He said the "positive" aspect to Celil being in China is Canada and China have long-standing diplomatic relations and embassies as compared to Uzbekistan and Canada.

Girtel couldn't say if a delegation is being considered, but said department officials were aware of MacLeod's request.

Officials at the Chinese embassy in Ottawa could not be reached for comment.



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