PM vows to help jailed imam

Poor relations with China have hindered efforts to help Canadian, Liberal says

Toronto Star
Feb 09, 2007 04:30 AM
Richard Brennan
Ottawa Bureau

OTTAWA–Prime Minister Stephen Harper says he won't let Huseyin Celil languish in a foreign jail as the former Liberal government did with Maher Arar.

The opposition Liberals have been pressing the government to contact senior Chinese officials to insist that the Burlington imam's Canadian citizenship be respected.

"We view Mr. Celil as a Canadian citizen. At all opportunities, we have taken the time to raise his case, to express our concerns, to demand justice be done," Harper told MPs yesterday during question period.

"Every single time ... the Liberal party has said we should say nothing, we should do nothing, we should take no action, just like they did with Mr. Arar," Harper said.

The Harper government recently paid $10.5 million in compensation to Arar, who was arrested in New York in 2002 and deported to Syria – where he was jailed for almost a year and tortured – after the RCMP gave U.S. officials incorrect information on his being a terror suspect.

Celil's case has gained renewed national prominence after it was discovered last week that Canadian diplomats in China did not attend a court hearing where Celil described torture he endured at the hands of Chinese authorities trying to extract a confession of terrorism.

Celil, 38, was arrested last March 27 in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, where he and his family were visiting his wife's relatives. Three months later, he was turned over to the Chinese.

Celil was imprisoned in China in the mid-1990s, allegedly for political activities among the Uyghurs, a minority group of Muslims in Xinjiang province. He escaped and was admitted to Canada as a refugee in 2001.
Liberal MP Dan McTeague (Pickering-Scarborough East) yesterday called on Harper to intervene personally on Celil's behalf, but added such efforts might be hampered by the state of the Conservative government's relations with China.

"We know that (Harper) can admit now his ability to stand up for Mr. Celil was so severely limited when he accused China of spying and turned a recent meeting with the Chinese president into an international farce," McTeague said.

Helena Guergis, secretary of state for foreign affairs, noted China has signed the United Nations convention against torture and "we expect that it will live up to its UN obligations.

"We have, in fact, directed officials there to head to the site ... to gain contact with Mr. Celil in order to give him consular services to which he is entitled as a Canadian citizen," she said.