Aug 09, 2006

East Turkestan: Canadian to be Executed in China

Foreign Affairs is scrambling for information after word that a Canadian from East Turkestan being held in China could be executed this week for his alleged role in the anti-government political movement

Canadian Huseyin Celil's sister in China called the imprisoned man's wife in Burlington, Ont. earlier last week, saying he was being held in a prison in western China and could be executed by Aug. 10.

Celil's wife, Kamila Telendibaeva, said a police officer from the Kashgar area leaked the details to her sister-in-law, who has been trying to find his whereabouts for weeks.

Celil was arrested in Uzbekistan in March while visiting his wife's family.

In June, he was extradited to China, where he could face the death penalty for an alleged involvement in "separatist" activities.

Until now, Canadian officials had no idea where Celil was being held because the Chinese government wouldn't disclose the location.

It also wouldn't recognize Celil's Canadian citizenship, which he earned in November of last year.

"She was crying when she called me," said Telendibaeva. "I told her not to cry because there is still time. Time is running out but we can still save him."

Government officials were tipped off about the phone call last Wednesday by Mohamed Tohti, a friend of Celil and president of the Uyghur Canadian Association.

"After I got the shocking news from Kamila I shared this information with government officials," said Tohti, who has been in close contact with Conservative MP Jason Kenney, the parliamentary secretary to Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Kenney said last Friday he found the reports very troubling and the government would do everything possible to confirm their truth.

"Should we confirm the veracity of these reports, the government will obviously express its concern in the most serious terms possible," said Kenney.

Sources told a Canadian newspaper that a Canadian consular official in China was dispatched to find out more information about Celil's condition and to confirm the allegations about the possible execution order. But critics say the government isn't doing enough.

"Foreign Affairs needs to act with great speed; Mr. Celil is in danger," said Chris McLeod, the imprisoned man's lawyer. "The government simply isn't doing enough. They need to send an envoy now. The prime minister needs to intervene in a very direct way. Whether that means recalling our ambassador, something needs to be done."

In 1994, Celil was arrested in China on charges of forming a political party, his wife said. After serving just a month in prison, he escaped, eventually buying false documents to enter Uzbekistan. He eventually landed in Turkey before being granted refugee status in Canada in 2001.

Meanwhile, in China, a court sentenced him to death in absentia for his alleged role in the anti-government political movement. His wife believes the conviction will allow the Chinese to speed up a possible execution. Born in China's far-western Xinjiang province, Celil is a Uighur Muslim, Turkic-language minority group that has long fought with the Chinese government for greater freedom.

Chinese officials say Celil is a terrorist who, among other things, helped assassinate a political leader in Kyrgyzstan - an allegation his family and his lawyer staunchly refute.