China to execute Burlington man who championed Muslim state

By Christine Cox
The Hamilton Spectator
BURLINGTON (Aug 9, 2006)

Amnesty International fears that Huseyin Celil, a Burlington man held in a Chinese jail, could be executed by tomorrow.

The organization has unconfirmed reports that Celil, 37, will be put to death for alleged terrorist activities.

Celil's wife, Kamila Telendibaeva, clings to the belief that it can't happen. Celil's sister tearfully called from China last week saying a police officer had told her Celil would be killed Aug. 10, but Canadian officials told Telendibaeva that the Chinese government said it wasn't true.

Telendibaeva hasn't seen her husband since he was arrested in Uzbekistan while they were visiting her family. Celil, a political dissident who came to Canada as a refugee, was arrested on a warrant from China. He had been sentenced to death in absentia in China.

He had championed the cause of the Muslim Uygur people in northwest Xinjiang province, an area taken over by the Chinese more than 50 years ago.

Every day Telendibaeva's three children ask her "Where's Daddy?" Telendibaeva, who is due to give birth to her fourth child Aug. 20, tells them he is coming back soon.

In reality, she is very frightened for his safety.

"I hope and I pray for good news," the soft-spoken woman says as she sits on a sofa in her modestly furnished townhouse.

"I am thinking all the time about my husband."

She rejects the possibility that he could be executed, but she worries that the Chinese authorities may torture him or mistreat him in some way.

"They can give him some medicine, some injections," she said. "They can hurt him and he can lose his health."

What frustrates her most is the lack of information. The Canadian government does not know where he's being detained.

Ambra Dickie, a Foreign Affairs spokesperson, said yesterday there are ongoing communications between the Canadian government and the Chinese government regarding Celil. Canada has formally requested information on Celil's exact whereabouts and is seeking immediate consular access.

"We continue to make every effort to confirm Mr. Celil's well-being and to ensure he is afforded due process and that his rights are protected, she said. "Chinese authorities continue to maintain that they will not seek the death penalty."

Dickie said Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay is following the case very closely.

Telendibaeva's Hamilton lawyer, Chris MacLeod, said Prime Minister Stephen Harper needs to send a special envoy to Beijing whose sole mission is to deal with the Celil case. MacLeod also thinks Canada should send a strong message by recalling its ambassador to China.

MacLeod said China has failed to meet its obligations under the Geneva Convention, including consular access, telling Canada what the charges are against Celil, and ensuring that there is a fair trial if the charges are legitimate.

Canada gave Celil refugee status to protect him from his persecutors, but now he's in their hands, the lawyer said. "They scooped him from a third country while he was travelling on a Canadian passport ... In light of China's track record, you cannot help but be concerned."

McMaster University professor John Colarusso considers Celil's chances of surviving are "pretty slim." Colarusso said the Uygur separatist movement is fairly strong in western China and China might execute Celil as an example, although that would make him a martyr for the Uygurs. Some countries don't care about Canadian passports if a person has dual citizenship, he said.

Telendibaeva said Celil doesn't have a Chinese passport because China doesn't give them to Uygurs, and that he did not know it would be dangerous to visit Uzbekistan.

Beth Berton-Hunter, an Amnesty International spokesperson, said the organization has put out an Urgent Action call.

It is urging human rights supporters everywhere to appeal to Chinese authorities on Celil's behalf, including faxing the ambassador to Canada, Lu Shumin (613-789-1911).

Amnesty International says the death penalty is used extensively and often arbitrarily in China.

At least 1,770 people were executed and 3,900 sentenced to death last year. Amnesty International has documented several cases of Uygurs being executed for alleged separatist or terrorist activities.





1998 -- Huseyin Celil flees China for Uzbekistan and later Turkey.

2001 -- Huseyin Celil and his wife Kamila Telendibaeva arrive in Canada as political refugees.

2005 -- They receive Canadian citizenship.

March 27, 2006 -- Celil arrested in Uzbekistan.

June 2006 -- Celil quietly deported to China from Uzbekistan.

August 2006 -- Unconfirmed reports that Celil will be executed Aug. 10.

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