Nov 17, 2006

East Turkestan: Praise for Canada’s Stance on Human Rights in China

Rebiya Kadeer, president of the Uyghur American Association, expressed gratitude to Canadian Prime Minister for his insistence on including human rights in discussions with senior Chinese officials at the APEC summit in Vietnam.

Below is a press release of the Uyghur American Association published on their Website:

November 17, 2006
Uyghur American Association

Rebiya Kadeer, president of the Uyghur American Association (UAA), today expressed gratitude to Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper for his insistence on including human rights in discussions with senior Chinese officials – including Chinese president Hu Jintao – at the APEC summit in Vietnam.

It is understood from press reports that Mr. Harper’s determination to include human rights on the agenda led the Chinese side to cancel discussions at the last moment. Mr. Harper is thought to be particularly concerned about the status and welfare of a naturalized Canadian citizen, Huseyin Celil, a Uyghur who was reportedly sentenced to 15 years in a Chinese prison on unknown charges in August 2006. The Chinese authorities refuse to recognize Mr. Celil’s status as a Canadian citizen, and in stark contravention of international consular protocols have reportedly ignored or rebuffed all attempts by Canadian diplomatic staff in China to intervene on Mr. Celil’s behalf.

“Prime Minister Harper’s hugely commendable act is an example of how international engagement with the Chinese government is supposed to encourage improvements in human rights in China,” said Ms. Kadeer. “But China’s petulant response is an example of how Beijing uses and abuses international engagement as just another convenient tool for hiding or denying its abysmal human rights record.”

Huseyin Celil is a charismatic imam based in Toronto, and has been a Canadian citizen since November 2005. He originally fled from the Chinese authorities in the late 1990s having served a prison term on charges relating to founding a political party in East Turkistan, the region now designated by the Chinese government as the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.

Upon being granted his Canadian citizenship, Mr. Celil went to Uzbekistan to try and meet with his children traveling from East Turkistan. However, he was detained by Uzbek authorities in March 2006 when he tried to renew his visa, reportedly at the request of the Kazakh authorities who wanted to question him in connection with crimes committed in Kazakhstan. He was unequivocally cleared of any involvement in those crimes – he was in Turkey under the protection of UNHCR at the time – but the Chinese authorities then secured his repatriation from Uzbekistan in June 2006.

The Chinese authorities claimed that Mr. Celil was involved in terrorist activities, although it is not publicly known what he is suspected of actually doing to warrant this accusation. Since 9/11, the Chinese authorities have tended to brand all Uyghur political opposition as either terrorist, separatist, or inspired by religious extremism. It is assumed that Mr. Celil has been charged with terrorist crimes in response to his peaceful political activities before he left East Turkistan. Reports that he was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment pending a statutory appeal have not been publicly confirmed or even commented upon by the Chinese authorities.

“For the sake of Huseyin Celil and everyone else seeking protection of their fundamental human rights in China, we hope that Beijing can pass this most simple test of its stated commitment to human rights and the rule of law, and start co-operating with Canadian consular staff,” added Ms. Kadeer.