OTTAWA (CP) - The federal government says it is using "all possible diplomatic avenues," including appeals to other countries, to press for the release of Canadian Islamic religious leader Huseyin Celil from jail in Uzbekistan.
Celil, a political dissident who fled his homeland in the mid-1990s before coming to Canada as a refugee and getting citizenship, faces deportation to China and possible execution.
"It is outrageous that the Uzbeki authorities have detained Mr. Celil without any clear explanation as to why or what their interest is in him," the prime minister's parliamentary secretary, Jason Kenney, said Wednesday.
"It is totally unacceptable to the government that it took some three weeks after his initial detention for Uzbeki authorities to permit access by Canadian consular officials.
"We publicly call upon the Uzbekistani government to co-operate fully with Canadian consular officials, which is their international legal obligation."
The statement came after Celil's pregnant wife, Kamila Telendibaeva, held an emotional news conference along with Amnesty International at Parliament Hill on Wednesday, where she read a statement pleading for help.
"We came to Canada (because) we wanted peace and a home to raise our family," she said, stopping repeatedly to fight back tears. "In Canada, we thought that we could speak freely and express our fears.
"Now my husband is facing extradition to the very country he fled from. I ask you, please, don't let them return him to China. . . . I don't want my unborn child or my two boys to ask who their father was or why he can't come home."
The human rights group and 12 other non-governmental organizations have written Prime Minister Stephen Harper asking him to intervene personally to help Celil, who has championed the cause of the Uygur people, an ethnic Muslim minority in China's Xinjiang province.
Kenney said Ottawa is "preoccupied" with Celil's release and has dedicated a full-time consular official out of Moscow to press the case in Uzbekistan "with full vigour."
"We are looking at and using all possible diplomatic avenues to press for his release," Kenney said.
"We have been and will be engaging other countries to assist us in this matter because, quite frankly, Canada has a very modest official presence in the central Asian region. We don't have an embassy or even a consulate in Uzbekistan or in neighbouring countries."
The issue is close to Kenney's heart. He made a controversial departure from a Canadian trade mission in China last year to visit the family of a dissident. He said Wednesday that weaker people suffer continuing, systematic persecution in China, "which is precisely why Canada granted convention refugee status to Mr. Celil in the first place."
Supporters want Canada to ensure legal counsel for Celil.
Celil was arrested in Uzbekistan on March 27 when he tried to renew his visa while the couple and their children were visiting Telendibaeva's family. No charges have been laid.
Telendibaeva returned to Canada last weekend after she was repeatedly denied visits to see her husband in jail. He was apparently arrested on a warrant from China and a ruling ordering his execution.
Amnesty International fears Celil, who escaped prison in China once, will be sent back because of close ties between the two countries and mutual extradition treaties.
Burlington man could be facing death`Canada needs to be very vocal': Lawyer
Apr. 24, 2006. 01:00 AM
Huseyincan Celil's Burlington townhouse is full of voices. The voices of friends, children and his wife. One voice is missing. His.
After the Canadian citizen's arrest in Uzbekistan's capital Tashkent on March 27, his wife, Kamila Telendibaeva, visited Uzbeki authorities begging for his release before she returned to Canada on Friday evening.
Celil, a Burlington imam, was once imprisoned in China and Kyrgyzstan for working on behalf of the minority Uyghur population in China's northwest Xinjiang province.
His family fears he will be sent to China and killed.
China and Uzbekistan have strong ties. Both belong to the Shanghai Co-operation Organization and the leaders of both countries take a hard stance against political opposition.
The Uzbeki authorities were waiting to see if Celil's fingerprints matched those on file in China and Kyrgyzstan before deporting him. The prints have been matched, Telendibaeva said.
As far as she knows, her husband is still in Tashkent. She knows which detention centre he's being held at.
But the authorities wouldn't let her visit him. "I was allowed to send a letter," she said in Turkish through a translator.
She misses her husband. "We've been married for six and a half years and never had a major argument," she said.
The couple's recent trip was supposed to be a vacation. Telendibaeva hadn't seen her parents, who live in Uzbekistan, in more than six years.
The Celils and their three young children flew to Kyrgyzstan in February to see an ill relative of Telendibaeva's before heading to Uzbekistan. After a month in Tashkent, the family decided to extend their trip.
On March 23, Celil visited Uzbeki authorities to renew the family's visitors' visas. He was told to come back in five days.
On March 27, Celil left for the visa office with Telendibaeva's father and brother at noon. At 10 p.m., Telendibaeva's father and brother returned without Celil.
China re-activated Celil's file in 2002, the family's lawyer, Chris MacLeod said. By that time, Celil had already been living in Canada for a year.
He often led prayers at the Ebu Bekir Islamic Centre in Hamilton. He also gave lectures on religious topics. But he rarely spoke publicly about the struggles of the Uyghur people, his family and friends say.
Three of his children from an earlier marriage remain in China. He was worried if he spoke out they would be punished, MacLeod says.
From time to time, Celil spoke on the radio. Once he attended a conference in Ottawa. That seemed to be enough for China to re-open his file. "The risk of harm he faces in China ... is a direct result of exercising freedom of expression," MacLeod says. Canada needs to be very vocal to the Uzbeki authorities, he says.
Telendibaeva just wants her husband where he belongs, she says. In Burlington. On the chair next to her.
Posted by Free Husyincan Celil Organization at 11:38 AM