Nov 21, 2006

East Turkestan: “Important First Step” for Release of Canadian Uyghur

The Canadian PM has addressed the detention of a Canadian Uyghur activist in a meeting with the Chinese President.

Below is an extract from an article written by Tobi Cohen, and published by Canadian Press:

It was brief and unofficial, but those fighting for the release of a Canadian man jailed in China are calling the meeting between Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his Chinese counterpart an "important first step."

Chris MacLeod, a lawyer representing the family of Chinese-Canadian Huseyin Celil, said Harper's commitment to address the issue with Chinese President Hu Jintao shows Canada won't tolerate China's disregard for international law or its poor treatment of Canadian citizens.

"I was very pleased to see the prime minister raise the case and stand up for Canada when they're being pushed around abroad," MacLeod said Sunday.

Celil was arrested while visiting relatives with his wife and children in Uzbekistan last March and was extradited to his native China in June. His family fears he could face the death penalty for his activism on behalf of China's minority Uighur population.

China has signed the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations but has been criticized for failing to live up to its obligations, which include notifying Canada if it has detained one of its citizens, providing government officials access to that person and providing that person with legal representation and a fair and transparent trial.

Neither his family nor Canadian consular officials have heard anything about Celil since his arrest.

Harper wouldn't discuss Hu's reaction to the Burlington, Ont., man's case, but a Chinese official told Canadian reporters that it's his country's perspective that Celil is a Chinese citizen.

Noting his client escaped from China and came to Canada as a legitimate refugee, MacLeod said Celil went a step further and contacted the Chinese consulate after becoming a Canadian citizen to officially renounce his Chinese citizenship.

Kamila Telendibaeva, Celil's wife and the mother of his four children, was hoping for more answers regarding her husband's incarceration, his health and ultimately the timeline for his release, but said she was nonetheless thankful Harper brought up the subject.

"I don't think any of us necessarily expected that there would be a meeting and they would walk out and everyone would say 'this was a big misunderstanding, here's Huseyin Celil,"' MacLeod said. "But I think that it's important that the message is sent that at the highest level of this government, breaching the Vienna Convention is a serious matter.