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Rights groups fear for Burlington man held in Uzbekistan
By Marissa NelsonThe Hamilton Spectator(Apr 8, 2006)
Human rights agencies across the world are now fighting for a Burlington father of six who is in a jail in Uzbekistan and who may face execution if he's extradited to China.
Huseyincan Celil, 37, went to the central Asian country about two months ago, with his wife, Kamila, and three sons. They went to visit his wife's family and to see if he could get his other three children out of China, where he had to leave them.
Celil was a political dissident in China, his friends say, and fled fearing for his life. They say he's now been sentenced to death in absentia in China.
Celil eventually made his way to Turkey and then Canada as a refugee. He is a Canadian citizen and holds no other passport. He was arrested in Uzbekistan on March 26 and his wife hasn't heard from him since.
Celil, who recently moved to Burlington, has many friends in Hamilton and is well known at the Ebu Bekir Islamic Centre on Parkdale Avenue North, a largely Turkish centre.
Now, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and media around the world have caught on to the story.
Alex Neve, secretary-general of Amnesty International Canada, said it is very worried about Celil, because human rights abuses in Uzbekistan are widespread and serious.
"There's no doubt he's in grave risk," Neve said. "He could quite quickly find himself on an airplane without any fair hearing or appeals process."
Kim Girtel, of the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs, said staff cannot release much information because of privacy legislation, but did confirm they were aware of one Canadian detainee.
Burhan Celik, a friend of Celil's in Ottawa, said the police in Uzbekistan have now blocked the phone where Celil's wife is staying, so no one can call out of the country. Shortly after a TV crew went through the home, police marched in to ask what information was given. Celik said Kamila Celil is desperate because she's heard extradition is imminent.
"We might just hear that China executed another dissident, when we think he's still in Uzbekistan," Celik said. "We are running out of time. We might already have run out of time."
Celil's wife has met with staff from Canada's embassy in Moscow and Human Rights Watch. She's also looking at hiring a lawyer in Uzbekistan, which is bordered by Afghanistan, China and several other former Soviet republics.
Hamilton lawyer Chris MacLeod is representing the family here, though he still hasn't spoken to Celil. He knew the family previously and said he's doing everything he can to ensure Canadian officials have what they need.
Salohiddin Sidikou, vice-consul for Uzbekistan in New York City, recognized Celil's name immediately, but said he had no information about him.
"We don't have any information a Canadian has been detained," he said.
Sidikou, who reluctantly gave his name, wouldn't say if China and Uzbekistan have extradition agreements, saying that information isn't given out over the phone.
"You could write a letter and ask for it, then we will see what kind of organization you are," he said.
Abdullah Bayat, who knows the Celil family from the Hamilton mosque, said everyone is praying for his safe return.
"We are all praying for him, and pray he comes home with the children from China."
Bayat said Celil was "like a little child" when he became a Canadian citizen. "It was the first time he'd felt like he belonged somewhere."
Michael Lynk, an assistant law professor at the University of Western Ontario, pointed to the massacre of hundreds of people in Uzbekistan last May, when police fired on protesters.
"Uzbekistan and China have a common interest in wanting to watch, monitor and suppress the Islamic population," Lynk said. "Uzbekistan wouldn't have a problem with extraditing Mr. Celil based on the relationship they've forged."
He explained Celil is part of a very small minority in China called the Uygur people. China is exceptionally sensitive about the Uygurs' desire for independence. Virtually all Uygurs are Sunni Muslims -- a religion China monitors closely.
John Colarusso, a McMaster University professor, said when the Soviet Union split up, China settled many border disputes by extracting an agreement that the bordering countries wouldn't aid Uygur separatists.
"This will be a test to see how faithful Uzbekistan is to that," he said. "This guy is really caught in a web."
At best, he said, Celil's chances are 50-50 if there's significant Canadian pressure.
Posted by Free Husyincan Celil Organization at 2:49 PM
Apr. 7, 2006. 06:42 AM
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.
Posted by Free Husyincan Celil Organization at 2:34 PM
Canadian man detained in Uzbekistan faces execution if surrendered to his native China because of his former career as a political dissident, a family friend said Tuesday. Huseyincan Celil has been held since March 26 in the capital city of Tashkent, said Seyit Aydogan, who fears the Uzbekistan government will hand Celil over to Chinese officials. "Uzbekistan intends to repatriate him to China where he will face a definite execution because of his past political activities," said Aydogan. "Celil holds only a Canadian passport. He denounced his Chinese citizenship." Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Kim Girtel confirmed Tuesday that a Canadian citizen is being detained in Uzbekistan. "We are in touch with the next-of-kin and we are providing consular assistance," said Girtel, who could not confirm the detained person's identity due to privacy regulations. Celil's wife and three children, all Canadian citizens who have lived in Hamilton, since 2002, were in Tashkent when he was taken and remain there with relatives, awaiting news of his condition, said Aydogan. "They can come back, but she wants her husband," he said. The family hasn't had any contact with Celil during his detention, Aydogan added. Celil was a political activist fighting for the rights of the Uygur population in western China when he was arrested and tortured there, said Aydogan. Celil escaped from prison, and fled to Uzbekistan and Turkey before coming to Canada as a refugee. The family has lived in Hamilton since 2002. Celil became a Canadian citizen "three or four months ago," said Aydogan.
Posted by Free Husyincan Celil Organization at 2:33 PM
Posted on April 05, 2006
A political dissident from China who is now a Canadian citizen has been arrested in the Central Asian state of Uzbekistan and could face extradition to China, his wife said.
AFPWed Apr 5, 11:24 AM ET
Wed Apr 5, 11:24 AM ET
TASHKENT (AFP) - A political dissident from China who is now a Canadian citizen has been arrested in the Central Asian state of Uzbekistan and could face extradition to China, his wife said. Huseyincan Celil, 37, an ethnic Uighur from western China, was arrested on March 27 in Tashkent, Komila Telindiyeva told AFP.
"We came to Uzbekistan to visit my parents who live here. Ten days ago we went to the police office to extend our Uzbek visa and there the police arrested my husband," Telindiyeva said.
Matthew Meyer, an official from Canada's embassy to Moscow, which also covers Central Asia, said: "The embassy is of course aware of the case... Canadian consular officials are working to resolve the matter."
Telindiyeva said she had not been able to see her husband since his arrest and police told her that he was arrested because "China and Kyrgyzstan want his arrest through Interpol."
Celil campaigned as a political activist fighting for the rights of the mostly Muslim population of the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region of China and had to flee to Kyrgyzstan in 1996 to escape prison, his wife said.
China has long been criticised by human rights advocates for violating the rights of the native Uighur people in western China under the pretext of clamping down on religious extremism and a separatist rebellion.
Celil was tried in Kyrgyzstan for criticising Chinese policy on the Uighur population but was then acquitted, Telindiyeva said.
He and his wife live in Hamilton, eastern Canada, where Celil was given refugee status in 2002. Telindiyeva said Celil was given Canadian citizenship "three or four months ago."
Posted by Free Husyincan Celil Organization at 2:29 PM
The wife of a Canadian man from Ontario says he's under arrest in Uzbekistan and risks deportation to his native China. The wife of 39-year-old Huseyincan Celil says that if the Uzbek government returns him to his native China, he'll be executed as a political dissident. Jamile Celil has appealed to the Canadian government to save her husband. On Tuesday, the Canadian foreign affairs department confirmed that a Canadian was under arrest in Tashkent and that the person's family has received consular assistance. His family says that Mr. Celil was an advocate of the rights of the ethnic Uighur people in the Autonomous Uighur Region of western China and that he fled China to Uzbekistan and Turkey before coming to Canada as a refugee in 2001. He, his wife and three children are now Canadian citizens. Mrs. Celil says all five of them were visiting relatives in Tashkent when he was arrested in a government office while trying to extend his visa.
Posted by Free Husyincan Celil Organization at 1:50 PM
at 20:25 on April 5, 2006, EST.
(CP) - The wife of an Ontario man detained in Uzbekistan urged the Canadian government Wednesday to save her husband from possible deportation to China, where she fears he faces execution as a political dissident.
Kamila Celil has not been allowed to speak with husband Huseyincan Celil, both of Burlington, Ont., since he was arrested on March 26 in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. "China wants to take him. He can't go to China, because they will arrest and they will kill him," Celil said in a phone interview from Tashkent.
"The Canadian government has to take him from Uzbekistan."
A letter outlining Celil's plight has been sent to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay, New Democrat Leader Jack Layton, and several other officials, said Burhan Celik, an Ottawa-area man working on Celil's behalf.
Celik, who began making calls to the government last Friday, said a consular official told him there may be bilateral agreements between Uzbekistan and China that supersede any protection Celil's Canadian passport could offer.
Foreign Affairs acknowledged that a Canadian citizen was being detained, and that the family has been granted consular assistance, but cited privacy laws in declining to provide specifics on the case.
"We are in touch with the wife, who is the next of kin," said spokeswoman Kim Girtel.
"I can assure you that everything that is possible to be done is being done."
While the family has spoken with consular officials, Celil said they were able to offer little information on her husband.
"I have been in the consulate in Tashkent, but they didn't see (my husband) and they didn't talk with him yet," Celil said.
"(The Uzbekistan government) said they will not send (him) to China, but we are afraid because we don't believe them. We are very afraid about that."
The family says Huseyincan Celil, 37, was a political activist fighting for the rights of the Uighur population in Xinjiang province, in northwestern China, when he was arrested there and tortured.
Authorities in Beijing view the region as a potential powder keg of separatist sentiment fuelled by the Uighurs, who are Muslim.
Celil escaped from prison in 1998, and fled to Uzbekistan and Turkey before coming to Canada as a refugee in 2001. He became a Canadian citizen late last year.
His wife and three of his children, all Canadian citizens who have lived since 2002 in Burlington, some 60 kilometres west of Toronto, were in Tashkent when he was taken and remain there with relatives, who are awaiting news of his condition.
Two of the children were born in Canada, while the third was born in Turkey.
Celil also has three other children that he was forced to leave behind when he fled China, said Seyit Aydogan, a Hamilton man helping alert the media to his friend's plight.
Celil travelled to Tashkent last month in the hopes of reuniting his family, Aydogan said.
He was renewing his visitor's visa on March 26 at a government office in Tashkent when he was arrested, his wife said.
"I couldn't talk with him; they didn't allow it," she said before pleading: "Please help me."
In a report published last month, the United Nations found that torture by authorities remains common in China. A UN investigator based his findings on visits to detention centres in Beijing, Tibet and Xinjiang province in late 2005.
Uzbekistan, a former republic of the Soviet Union, is a close ally of Beijing.
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Posted by Free Husyincan Celil Organization at 1:43 PM