Diplomacy isn't working

By Robert HowardThe Hamilton Spectator(Jul 4, 2006)
Huseyincan Celil is a Canadian citizen believed to be in a jail cell somewhere in China. It is outrageous that a foreign government will not even say whether it has a Canadian in prison.
China is not even acknowledging it has the Burlington resident. His wife isn't sure he is still alive. That's utterly unacceptable and Beijing must be informed, in the strongest possible language, that Canada will not tolerate denial of basic human rights to Canadian citizens.
China is a trading superpower, which influences how tough other governments are in confronting it on its appalling human rights record. But Ottawa must insist, inside or outside traditional diplomacy, that Canadians are treated in accordance with international standards of justice.
Citizenship doesn't provide immunity against arrest or imprisonment in another country. But it must ensure Ottawa will go to bat for its citizens -- insisting on such basic rights as competent counsel and a fair and transparent judicial process.
Celil is accused by his native China of working for a violent separatist movement in Xinjiang province. He escaped China and received refugee status and later citizenship in Canada. Sentenced to death in absentia by a Chinese court, Celil was arrested in March in neighbouring Uzbekistan.
Uzbekistan says he has been sent to China. Beijing is saying nothing.
This is all-too-familiar ground for Ottawa:
* William Sampson was imprisoned without a lawyer, brutally tortured and sentenced to death in Saudi Arabia in 2001. Released in 2003.
* Canadian Zahra Kazemi died in Iran during interrogation after being arrested taking photos outside a prison. A medical witness says she was brutally tortured and raped and died of head injuries. No autopsy was ever allowed and the only person ever charged in her murder was acquitted.
* Maher Arar is a Syrian-born Canadian who was held as a terrorism suspect for a year without charges in a Syrian jail.
Diplomacy is traditionally based on notes and niceties. A rapid non-traditional response -- perhaps even a phone call from the Prime Minister's Office to one of Beijing's aging despots -- may be needed to save another Canadian from torture or death. Ottawa needs to act.

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