China-Canada row over imprisoned Celil escalates


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Feb. 8 2007 10:44 AM ET
CTV.ca News Staff

A dual Chinese-Canadian citizen is at the centre of an escalating diplomatic row between Canada and China.

China insists that the case of Huseyin Celil, a Canadian activist jailed in China last spring, is not subject to consular agreements. But Canada disagrees.

Celil, 38, made a court appearance last week in Urumqi, the capital of China's western Xinjiang region -- without the presence of a Canadian diplomat.

It is a violation of his rights as a Canadian citizen to not have a Canadian diplomat present at an international court appearance.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper is reportedly demanding an explanation for what happened. But China's Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu says Celil is a Chinese citizen and that "a consular agreement between China and Canada does not apply in this case.''

Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay's spokesman, Dan Dugas, told The Globe and Mail that MacKay had personally called the Canadian embassy in Beijing.

"The Chinese government is not co-operating with the Canadian mission in China and we aren't going to stop asking them for what's happening with Mr. Celil," said Dugas.

The federal government has now dispatched diplomats to Urumqi with orders they remain there indefinitely, The Globe reports.

Celil has been in Chinese custody on terror-related charges since March, when he was detained in Uzbekistan while visiting his wife's family. He was then sent to China under an extradition agreement between the two nations.

China has refused to recognize Celil's Canadian citizenship and has denied him access to Canadian consular officials. His Canadian lawyer has been unable to speak with him, and his wife Kamila Telendibaeva hasn't seen him in almost a year.

At his court appearance last week, Celil told the court he was tortured by secret police. Celil's sister and son attended the hearing and reported the proceedings to his wife in Burlington, Ontario.

"(I was) very sad when I heard my husband... was tortured," Celil's wife Kamila told Canada AM Thursday.

Celil's family says he is being persecuted because he is a Uighur -- a Turkic-speaking Muslim -- and a political dissident who fled his homeland in the 1990s.

"They are saying he's a terrorist but he didn't do anything wrong," Kaila said. "He spoke about his people's rights, Uighur people's rights, about freedom of religion, about the democracy but he did not do anything."

Celil's imprisonment has caused friction between Canada and China in the past. Prime Minister Stephen Harper pointedly spoke about Celil with Chinese President Hu Jintao while in Vietnam, where the two leaders were among 21 gathered for the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation summit last November.

Chinese authorities have long maintained that militants among the Uighur are leading a violent Islamic separatist movement in the region and are seeking to set up an independent state of "East Turkistan.'

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