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China is driving this

Faces kidnapping, murder charges

Allegations `are not valid": Lawyer

May 13, 2006. 01:00 AM

A Burlington Islamic religious leader being held in Uzbekistan has been charged with murder and kidnapping in neighbouring Kyrgyzstan in central Asia, his lawyer confirmed yesterday.
But Chris MacLeod told the Toronto Star the charges against Huseyincan Celil, a local imam, can be easily refuted, saying Celil was a refugee in Turkey when the alleged incidents happened in Kyrgyzstan in March and June 2000.
"We are now compiling our documents to refute those charges and we are not going to have much difficulty at all with that as he was in Turkey under UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) administration at the time," he said. "These charges are not valid. They are as far out there as you can get."
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 in March while trying to renew his visitor's visa in the Uzbek capital of Tashkent.
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.
MacLeod said he is convinced "China is driving this" and that Kyrgyzstan is acting as an intermediary state. It is believed that even if Celil was transferred to Kyrgyzstan, he would simply be sent to nearby China.
"We've got UNHCR documents that say ... around June 14, 1999, that he is accepted ... as an official refugee in Turkey ... and he was with his wife and disabled son," he said.
The allegations are that Celil killed People's Republic of China delegates while in Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan, in March 2000, and then returned and kidnapped other PRC officials in June, MacLeod said.
"They had to come with something to hold him," he said. "It makes absolutely no sense for him to leave his wife and his newborn son to fly back to Kyrgyzstan, where he already had problems, commit crimes and then fly back," he said.
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.
MacLeod said he would be providing the federal government with the necessary documentation next week to refute the charges, complete with pictures of Celil in Turkey, as well as statements from other people who were with him in Turkey.
Canadian officials could not be reached for comment.
MacLeod said Celil is getting weekly visits from officials from the Canadian consul in Uzbekistan, "and it is my understanding that he is in good health."
"We continue to request the government to push aggressively for his release and return to Canada," he said.