May 23, 2008

East Turkestan: News Emerges From a Chinese Prison

Sample ImageDetained since 2006, Huseyin Celil, a Canadian citizen, is languishing in a cell as Beijing refuses to cooperate and Canada appears unwilling to exert influence on the regime.

Below is an article written by Omar El Akkad and published by the Globe and Mail:

For the first time, imprisoned Canadian Huseyin Celil has spoken out in his own words about his 2½-year ordeal in the Chinese legal system, saying he is quickly losing hope that he will ever see the outside world again.

In a three-page letter sent from prison and obtained by The Globe and Mail, Mr. Celil asks his mother to forgive him for all the suffering he has put her through.

"Do not cry for me too much," he writes in the Uyghur language. "I cannot stand this unjust world - I am supposed to serve you as your son; I am supposed to help you under your knees all day and night, but now you are helping my son and taking care [of my children] for me. You have raised my two children as you did all my brothers and sisters. This is painful."

The letter is dated March 10 [2008] and appears to have originated from a prison in Urumqi in northwestern China.

It is important not only because it represents a rare firsthand communication from the imprisoned Canadian, but also because Mr. Celil's family has recently been denied access to him in prison and are not sure where he is being held.

The Globe reported in late March that Mr. Celil's whereabouts in China had become unknown to Canadian officials and his family.

The Globe also reported that the Chinese ambassador in Ottawa had been called into the Department of Foreign Affairs to discuss the situation. According to a Foreign Affairs spokesman at the time, Canadian officials asked the ambassador that Mr. Celil's family be allowed to visit him in prison, "if only on humanitarian grounds."

His supporters believe he is being kept away from visitors until the Beijing Olympics end later this summer. It is unclear whether the letter was written before he was moved to another prison.

Mr. Celil, a member of the Muslim Uyghur minority in China, was travelling on a Canadian passport when he was arrested in Uzbekistan two years ago and eventually handed over to Chinese officials. Beijing accused him of terrorism and sentenced him to life in prison in April of 2007. He and his supporters have always denied the charges against him.

Even though Mr. Celil is a Canadian citizen, he has not been given access to Canadian officials. Ottawa went to great lengths to press Beijing on his case in the months leading up to his sentencing. But while the case garnered much news-media attention at the time, it has largely dropped off the public radar. Chinese officials have privately and publicly made it clear that Beijing will not change its position on the case.

In his letter, Mr. Celil maintains that he has done nothing wrong. But it is clear that he has little information about how his case has progressed outside the walls of his prison. In a portion addressed to his wife, Kamila Telendibaeva in Canada, he asks her to tell officials in Canada's Chinese embassy about his situation.

"So far for nearly two years I have not seen anyone from Canada," he writes. "I am a citizen of Canada and I belong to this great country."

Mr. Celil said he has no idea what has been going on in the outside world since his arrest. He added that he has written to his mother twice but received no reply, even though "I can feel from the bottom of my heart that you came to Urumqi many, many times" to try to visit. He asks whether his wife is coming to visit him, and says he dreams about her every day.

But the majority of the letter is addressed to Mr. Celil's mother, and reflects both the prisoner's affection for her and his increasing resignation to the possibility that he may spend the rest of his life in jail.

"Please forgive me if I have ever done anything wrong to you in my life," he writes to his mother. "Please forgive me if I have ever spoken loudly in front of you.

"It is only God who can help me meet with all of you."



To read the full translated letter, please click here.