May 02, 2007

East Turkestan: Canadians Demand Contact with Activist Jailed in China

During his visit to Beijing, Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay demanded direct contact with Canadian Uyghur activist Huseyin Celil serving a life sentence in a Chinese jail.

During his visit to Beijing, Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay has demanded information about the treatment of Canadian Uyghur activist Huseyin Celil serving a life sentence in a Chinese jail.

Below is an article published by

Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay says Beijing has assured him that a Canadian Muslim activist serving a life sentence in a Chinese jail has not been tortured.  

China's Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi "assured me that this was not the case, that there had been no signs of torture or mistreatment of Mr. (Huseyin) Celil," MacKay said Monday [30 April 2007], after meetings in Beijing.

In February, Celil told a Chinese court that he had been starved and deprived of sleep, his family claims. 

MacKay said he urged that Canadian diplomats be allowed to meet with Celil and check into such claims.

"We'd very much like to have access ourselves to make that determination, and what I can assure you is that we will continue to insist upon this access," he said. 

Celil, who belongs to the Uighur Muslim minority of far western China, holds Canadian citizenship. The Chinese-born man came to Canada via Uzbekistan and Turkey after escaping from a Chinese jail in 2000.

A Chinese court found him guilty last week of convicted for the two crimes of "separating China and ... organizing, leading and participating in terrorist groups, organizations."  

He had been picked up in Uzbekistan in late March 2006 and returned to China.

Steve Chao, CTV's Beijing bureau chief, said MacKay's visit -- his first to China -- is widely seen as an attempt to improve relations with the world's most populous country.  

"MacKay's first focal effort was to try and improve strained relations, relations strained since the Harper government took over and Harper began to condemn China for many of its human rights abuses, including the Celil case," he said.

Before last November's APEC summit, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said he wouldn't "sell out" on human rights to promote trade with China. 

"Hopefully Mr. Harper has learned a lesson, that throwing bricks from Ottawa is not going to allow us to have a constructive engagement with China," said Liberal MP Keith Martin in Beijing.

Chao said people charged with similar crimes to Celil's have been executed. 

"There is a possibility that China is showing a degree of leniency because Canada has raised this as a diplomatic issue," he said.

"This time around the delegation also suggested to Chinese officials that perhaps Celil could be exiled to Canada just before the Olympics as a goodwill gesture."  

"No one is sure if that will happen, but it was raised in meetings today," he said.

A Uighur woman accused of similar crimes to Celil's served five years in a Chinese prison before being exiled to the United States -- after the U.S. exerted pressure, Chao said. 

During his four-hour meeting, MacKay said he also discussed other issues including environmental protection, health, enhancing co-operation in Afghanistan and climate change.

MacKay will next visit Seoul, South Korea for more meetings Tuesday.