Apr 20, 2007

East Turkestan: Activist Jailed for Life

Chinese authorities have sentenced Huseyin Celil, Uyghur activist and Canadian citizen, to life in prison in what human rights groups are calling an intensified crackdown on Chinese dissidents.

Below is an article published by The Age:

China has jailed a Uighur-Canadian for life for separatism and terrorism and warned Canada not to get involved.

The Intermediate People's Court in Urumqi, capital of the tense northwestern region of Xinjiang, convicted Huseyin Celil, 37, of "terrorist activities and plotting to split the country", Xinhua news agency reported, the second ethnic Uighur activist jailed in China this week.

China accuses Uighur militants of using violence in their struggle to set up an independent East Turkestan state in predominantly Muslim Xinjiang, which borders Pakistan, Afghanistan and restive Central Asian states.

Described by Xinhua as a prominent member of pro-East Turkestan "terrorist organisations", Celil was also deprived of his political rights for life.

Celil, also known as Husein Dzhelil, fled China in the mid-1990s and sought asylum through the UN refugee office in Turkey, according to human rights watchdog Amnesty International.

Canada accepted him as a refugee and he obtained citizenship there in November 2005, Amnesty said.

But China considers Celil a Chinese citizen and has refused Canadian officials access to him. On Thursday [19 April 2007], it again warned Canada not to press his case.

"We hope that Canada won't use this to interfere in China's domestic affairs and also hope that Chinese-Canadian relations won't be affected," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao told a regular news conference in Beijing.

"Canada should be extremely clear on China's position that the case of Celil is entirely China's domestic matter."

Celil was detained in Uzbekistan in March 2006 when he was visiting relatives and repatriated to China last June.

Xinhua cited court documents as saying he had been active in the East Turkestan Liberation Organisation in Kyrgyzstan and had recruited several people there to be sent to training camps on the Pamirs plateau in Pakistan.

An official with the Canadian embassy in Beijing said Canadian diplomats had not been allowed into the courtroom but stayed outside when the verdict was announced.

"The Canadian government is reviewing the verdict and will have a reaction in due course. We continue to be in very close contact with the family and offering them what assistance we can at this time," the official said.

It was not known whether Celil would appeal, Xinhua said.

Human rights groups say China has intensified a crackdown on Uighurs in recent years, with arbitrary arrests and closed-door trials.

Xinjiang is home to eight million Uighurs, a Turkic, largely Islamic people who share linguistic and cultural bonds with their Central Asian neighbours. Many resent the growing Han Chinese presence in oil-rich Xinjiang, as well as government controls on religion and culture.

On Tuesday [17 April 2007], a son of exiled Uighur activist Rebiya Kadeer was jailed for nine years on charges of instigating and engaging in secessionist activities. Another son was jailed for seven years in November for tax evasion.

In February, China executed Ismail Semed, a founding member of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement outlawed by Beijing, for attempting to "split the motherland", drawing condemnation from a human rights group which said the evidence was insufficient.

In January, Chinese police killed 18 people, described by the government as terrorists, in a gunbattle which left one officer dead and another wounded.

Another 17 were arrested after police raided and destroyed a training camp in Xinjiang that China said was run by the East Turkestan Islamic Movement.