Uzbekistan deports a Canadian Uyghur to a deeply uncertain fate in China


For immediate release
June 23, 2006, 15:00 EDT
Contact: Uyghur Human Rights Project +1 (202) 349 1496

The Canadian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has been informed by officials in Uzbekistan that Huseyin Celil, a Uyghur and naturalized Canadian citizen who fled China several years ago, has been sent back to the People’s Republic of China (PRC) by the Uzbek authorities. The Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP) fears he is at extremely high risk of arbitrary detention, torture, and even execution.

Concern for Mr Celil’s fate is greatly heightened by the fact he is mentioned by name as an accomplice to Ismail Semed in Ismail Semed’s sentencing document – Ismail Semed was sentenced to death on separatism charges in October 2005, and may already have been executed (see, UHRP: Uyghur sentenced to death on political charges in East Turkistan, April 7, 2006).

Huseyin Celil’s forced return to China sometime in the past few days means he is almost certain to face charges of “splittism relating to the political and religious activities he engaged in when he was still in East Turkistan (the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, in the north west PRC), and during his first years of exile in Central Asia.

“This is terrifying news, said Alim Seytoff, Director of UHRP. “We were worried Uzbekistan were going to send him to Kyrgyzstan to face false charges, but for him to be sent to China to face false charges – this really is the worst case scenario.

A father of six with a heavily pregnant wife, Mr Celil is a highly respected and charismatic Imam in Hamilton,who went to Uzbekistan to try and meet up with three of his young children who had traveled to Tashkent from China to see him.

Mr Celil was initially detained in Tashkent on March 27, 2006, reportedly at the request of the Chinese authorities. He was also wanted by the Kyrgyz authorities on suspicion of committing serious crimes in 2000. However, he was able to conclusively prove that he was in Turkey when those crimes were committed in Kyrgyzstan, and it appears his extradition to China went ahead after the Uzbek authorities were satisfied he was not responsible for those crimes in Kyrgyzstan.

It is clear from Ismail Semed’s sentencing document that the only evidence against him and other people named in the document – including Mr Celil – is the testimony of individuals interrogated by Chinese police. UHRP is extremely concerned that many of the testimonies cited as evidence to sentence Mr Semed to death and to implicate Mr Celil were extorted through torture.

Furthermore, two of the people whose testimony was cited as evidence were themselves executed in 1998, obviously making any cross-examination of prosecution witnesses impossible. As such, UHRP believes it will be impossible for Mr Celil to have a fair trial.

Another alleged accomplice to Ismail Semed named in the sentencing document, Kurban Yasin, who once shared a detention cell with Mr Celil in Kyrgyzstan on immigration charges, was also sent back to China and executed, according to UHRP’s sources, having been accused of activities very similar to those ascribed to Mr Celil in the sentencing document.

Background

Mr Celil is the latest in a long line of Uyghurs known to have been sent back to China from neighboring states to face arbitrary detention, torture and possible execution. For instance, Ismail Semed was himself extradited from Pakistan in 2003, and in May of this year, fears were raised that two Uyghurs from East Turkistan, Yusuf Kadir Tohti and Abdukadir Sidik, may have been secretly sent back to China from Kazakhstan at the request of the Chinese authorities. Both men reportedly had computer disks containing information of ‘an extremist character’ when detained in Kazakhstan.

Mainly under the auspices of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), the PRC has brokered agreements with most of its immediate neighbors for Uyghurs suspected of involvement in any political activities against the Chinese government to be returned to the PRC. Indeed, one of the main stated functions of the SCO under the the guidance of PRC has been to curtail and control the political activities of Uyghurs in the region.

Uyghurs are regularly sent back to the PRC following the minimal assurances that they will be handled in accordance with international human rights law. Deporting or extraditing people to face possible torture and execution severely undermines the principle of non-refoulement in customary international human rights law.

Even those states which are not members of the SCO regularly return Uyghurs to the PRC, apparently concerned with avoiding ‘upsetting’ China as it fast becomes the dominant presence in Central Asia.

As an example of these concerns, the Pakistani press reported this morning that the Chinese embassy in Islamabad had expressed concern that “members of the Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM) are planning to kidnap senior Chinese diplomats and consular officers in Pakistan.

The Pakistani authorities reportedly responded to China’s claim by saying the police will “hunt down the ETIM members […] as soon as possible , raising fears that the Pakistani police will unfairly target Uyghurs in the country.

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