Wife of man arrested in Uzbekistan returns alone

Toronto Star
Apr. 24, 2006. 01:00 AM | NAOMI CARNIOL

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Huseyincan Celil's Burlington townhouse is full of voices. The voices of friends, children and his wife. One voice is missing. His.

After the Canadian citizen's arrest in Uzbekistan's capital Tashkent on March 27, his wife, Kamila Telendibaeva, visited Uzbeki authorities begging for his release before she returned to Canada on Friday evening.

Celil, a Burlington imam, was once imprisoned in China and Kyrgyzstan for working on behalf of the minority Uyghur population in China's northwest Xinjiang province.

His family fears he will be sent to China and killed.

China and Uzbekistan have strong ties. Both belong to the Shanghai Co-operation Organization and the leaders of both countries take a hard stance against political opposition.

The Uzbeki authorities were waiting to see if Celil's fingerprints matched those on file in China and Kyrgyzstan before deporting him. The prints have been matched, Telendibaeva said.

As far as she knows, her husband is still in Tashkent. She knows which detention centre he's being held at.

But the authorities wouldn't let her visit him. "I was allowed to send a letter," she said in Turkish through a translator.

She misses her husband. "We've been married for six and a half years and never had a major argument," she said.

The couple's recent trip was supposed to be a vacation. Telendibaeva hadn't seen her parents, who live in Uzbekistan, in more than six years.

The Celils and their three young children flew to Kyrgyzstan in February to see an ill relative of Telendibaeva's before heading to Uzbekistan. After a month in Tashkent, the family decided to extend their trip.

On March 23, Celil visited Uzbeki authorities to renew the family's visitors' visas. He was told to come back in five days.

On March 27, Celil left for the visa office with Telendibaeva's father and brother at noon. At 10 p.m., Telendibaeva's father and brother returned without Celil.

China re-activated Celil's file in 2002, the family's lawyer, Chris MacLeod said. By that time, Celil had already been living in Canada for a year.

He often led prayers at the Ebu Bekir Islamic Centre in Hamilton. He also gave lectures on religious topics. But he rarely spoke publicly about the struggles of the Uyghur people, his family and friends say.

Three of his children from an earlier marriage remain in China. He was worried if he spoke out they would be punished, MacLeod says.

From time to time, Celil spoke on the radio. Once he attended a conference in Ottawa. That seemed to be enough for China to re-open his file. "The risk of harm he faces in China ... is a direct result of exercising freedom of expression," MacLeod says. Canada needs to be very vocal to the Uzbeki authorities, he says.

Telendibaeva just wants her husband where he belongs, she says. In Burlington. On the chair next to her.