OMAR EL AKKAD
From Monday's Globe and Mail
July 27, 2008 at 9:38 PM EDT
OTTAWA — A federal minister moved quickly on the weekend to reverse the Canada Revenue Agency decision that cut off benefits to the wife of a Canadian jailed in China.
Monte Solberg, the federal minister for human resources and social development, learned on Friday evening that Kamila Telendibaeva, wife of Huseyin Celil, had her child-tax benefits cut off because she cannot provide documents signed by her husband. Mr. Solberg called department officials and told them to remedy the situation, his communications director told The Globe and Mail.
Ms. Telendibaeva's husband is unable to sign documents because he is serving a life sentence in northwest China on what his supporters say are trumped up terrorism charges. She told reporters the Canadian Revenue Agency has billed her for almost $10,000 for failing to file income tax for her husband.
Ms. Telendibaeva said she used to receive a monthly benefit of just under $1,000.
This is not the first time Ms. Telendibaeva has faced such challenges. She previously had trouble obtaining a birth certificate for her youngest son because she could not obtain a signature from her husband.
Mr. Celil was travelling on a Canadian passport in March of 2006 when he was arrested in Uzbekistan and handed over to Beijing. Accusing him of terrorism, China sentenced the Burlington, Ont., resident to life in prison. In violation of international agreements, Beijing has never granted Mr. Celil access to Canadian consular officials.
The Conservative government initially took a firm stance on Mr. Celil's case – senior government officials said they saw no evidence that Mr. Celil was involved in terrorism, and the Canadian's case was championed at the highest levels of government in Ottawa.
However, Beijing has made it clear it considers Mr. Celil's case closed, and that further agitation on Mr. Celil's behalf could threaten China-Canada relations. Compared to the months following his arrest and sentencing, Ottawa has ramped down its efforts to call for access to Mr. Celil.
But Mr. Celil's plight has found a sympathetic ear in the most powerful offices in Ottawa. His most vocal supporters, along with Ms. Telendibaeva, have previously been invited to meet personally with Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Earlier this month at the G8 summit in Japan, Mr. Harper asked Chinese President Hu Jintao to allow relatives and Canadian diplomats to visit Mr. Celil.
After months of trying, Mr. Celil's family in China were allowed to see him earlier this month. In a 30-minute meeting, he said he was being held in isolation and given one meal a day.
Mr. Celil is a member of the Uyghur people – a Muslim minority group in China. Beijing has often accused Uyghurs of being separatists and their leaders of being terrorists. Uyghur groups complain that Beijing has used the U.S. war on terror as a pretext to justify its persecution of the minority group.
Mr. Celil's supporters have tried to use the upcoming Beijing Olympics to put pressure on the Chinese government to release Mr. Celil. The latest such move came Sunday, during a rally in Toronto. However, China has shown no indication that its position on Mr. Celil has changed.