Family losing hope for missing Canadian

Harper has yet to respond, they say
Ex-activist may be in Chinese prison

Jul. 5, 2006. 10:44 AM



After 100 days since Huseyincan Celil was taken into foreign custody, questions still swirl around his disappearance, his whereabouts and the Canadian government's response.

The Chinese-born Muslim refugee is a Canadian citizen and father of six who has been shuttled between captors so secretively that his family isn't even sure he's still alive.

Aside from comments from Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay that his office began trying months ago to secure Celil's release, Ottawa has barely acknowledged the fact the Burlington imam and former political activist is a prisoner whose prospects turned grim when he apparently surfaced in Chinese custody last week. He faces a death sentence there.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has not responded to a letter sent last week by Celil's Hamilton-based lawyer, Chris MacLeod, requesting he send a special envoy to secure Celil's release. Harper's help, Celil's family says, is their only hope.

Sandra Buckler, Harper's spokeswoman, said the letter was received. She could not say how long it will take Harper to respond, adding that response time varies depending on how many ministries are involved.

The case against Celil, who became a Canadian citizen last year, is confusing and complex. It involves allegations that he has multiple aliases, and that he used at least one of them to assassinate a political leader and commit terror-related crimes in Kyrgyzstan and China.

Celil's lawyer has deemed the allegations bizarre, and says he has documents to prove his client's innocence. It's unclear whether Ottawa has its own information on Celil's alleged crimes, or whether, over the past 100 days, he's simply slipped further into the cracks.

The saga of Celil's captivity began when the 37-year-old was arrested on March 27 in Tashkent, the capital city of Uzbekistan. He was there with his wife visiting relatives who travelled to see him from nearby China, and was taken into custody when he tried to renew a visitor's visa.

Celil's family said they suspected he was arrested because of Uzbekistan's close ties with China.

Celil was imprisoned in China in the mid-1990s, allegedly for political activities in Xinjiang province. He was connected to the Uyghurs, a minority group of Turkish-speaking Muslims who have been accused by China of leading a violent separatist movement.

After he escaped, Celil was admitted to Canada as a refugee in 2001. While he and his wife were beginning their new life in Hamilton, a Chinese court sentenced Celil to death in absentia.

When he was arrested in Uzbekistan last March, his family began to fear for his life, worrying he would be extradited to China and killed. But for nearly three months, Uzbek officials kept Celil in custody.

They allowed him three consular visits with Canadian representatives. He had no family contact.

But his future was quickly clouded by a statement issued by the Uzbek Embassy in London, suggesting Celil has multiple aliases, including "Guler Dilaver," a Turkish citizen wanted by neighbouring Kyrgyz law enforcement officials for "for membership in terrorism groups, kidnapping, taking hostages and illegal weapon possession."

A pro-government website alleges Dilaver was involved in a May 2000 attack on a state delegation in Xinjiang province. It also alleges he is responsible for the March 2000 killing of Nigmat Baizakov, former head of the Uyghur Society in Kyrgyzstan.

Celil's lawyer argues the charges are a "ruse" because Celil was in a different country at the time.

Seven month's pregnant with the couple's fourth child, Celil's wife, Kamila Telendibaeva, said she was told Uzbek authorities were waiting to see if her husband's fingerprints matched those on file in China and Kyrgyzstan before deporting him.

Last week, Uzbekistan confirmed it had turned Celil over to Chinese officials. Telendibaeva began wondering if her husband is even alive. Last week, she began pleading for help. "Only the Canadian government can help to bring my husband back," she said. "They have to do more. They have to do more."

MacLeod said if he doesn't receive a response from the Prime Minister's Office by the end of the week, he'll make the trip to China himself. He said a high-level intervention is necessary not only to free Celil, but also to ensure the safety of other Canadian immigrants travelling abroad. "They need to know that when they get a Canadian passport, they can actually safely leave this country for other countries."

The Canadian government insists it is doing what it can.

Last Tuesday, a diplomatic note — the strongest instrument governments can use to communicate without damaging relations — was hand-delivered to Chinese officials asking about Celil's whereabouts. So far, there has been no official response.

With files from Michael Mainville, the Star's stringer in Moscow

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