Family of Uyghur-Canadian Huseyin Celil anxiously awaits word of his fate

For immediate release
August 7, 2006, 17:40 EDT
Contact: The Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP), +1 202 349 1496

Huseyin Celil(Washington, DC) According to Canadian news reports published over the weekend, Canadian Huseyin Celil, who has been imprisoned in China since June after being extradited from Uzbekistan, faces possible execution by Thursday, August 10. The Globe and Mail reported on Friday that Mr. Celil\’s sister, who lives in East Turkistan (Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, in the northwest of the People\’s Republic of China), telephoned his wife in Canada with this information. A police officer in Kashgar, a city in East Turkistan, reportedly leaked the details to his sister, who has been trying to determine his whereabouts for weeks.

According to reports, Canadian foreign affairs officials have been making various attempts to obtain more information on Mr. Celil after receiving a phone call last week from Mohamed Tohti, a friend of Celil and president of the Uyghur Canadian Association. Canadian officials have previously been rebuffed by their requests for information. While Mr. Celil\’s sister has reportedly heard conflicting reports of him being held in either Kashgar or Urumqi, Canadian officials still do not know for sure where he is being held. The Chinese government has not disclosed the location of his imprisonment, and it has refused to recognize his Canadian citizenship, which he was granted in November 2005, and have insisted on treating him as a Chinese citizen. This is despite the fact that Mr. Celil was traveling on a Canadian passport at the time of his detention in Uzbekistan.

A father of six whose wife is due to give birth in less than three weeks, Mr. Celil is a highly respected and charismatic imam in Hamilton who went to Uzbekistan to visit his wife\’s parents, who reside there.

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.

Mr. Celil\’s wife reportedly stated that he was arrested in China in 1994 on charges of forming a political party. He escaped after serving a month in prison, and later bought false documents to enter Uzbekistan, before making his way to Turkey. The political and religious activities that Mr. Celil engaged in while still in East Turkistan, as well as the activities he took part in during his first years of exile in Central Asia, have almost certainly resulted in charges of “splittism .

Canadian MP Jason Kenney, the parliamentary secretary to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, reportedly said that he found the reports troubling and that the government was doing everything possible to confirm them. According to a CBC News report, Mr. Kenney stated that senior Chinese government officials have assured Canadian embassy officials in Beijing that they would not seek the death penalty against Mr. Celil. According to the Globe and Mail, Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay said he raised Mr. Celil\’s case when he met with China\’s foreign minister when the two were in Malaysia recently. Mr. MacKay said that as a result, Canadian embassy officials met with Chinese officials in China and “have secured from them that he will not be executed.

Canadian officials will continue to push for consular access, Mr. MacKay reportedly stated, and will do what they can to ensure that his rights are respected and that he is given due process.

Despite these assurances, UHRP remains extremely concerned about the safety of Mr. Celil. UHRP fears he remains at extremely high risk of arbitrary detention, torture, and execution. This concern stems partly from the fact that Mr. Celil 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).

Even if the threat of execution no longer exists, Mr. Celil is at risk of remaining in prison indefinitely and suffering severe mistreatment. The Chinese authorities are obligated under international law to grant Canadian officials consular access to Huseyin Celil, and to provide detailed information about his imprisonment and any charges filed against him.

Mr. Celil\’s continued imprisonment sets a worrying precedent for Uyghur refugees throughout the world. “If Huseyin Celil is not released from imprisonment soon and returned to Canada, Uyghurs can no longer feel secure when traveling anywhere outside their country of residence or citizenship, stated Alim Seytoff, director of UHRP.

If China is allowed to ignore the Canadian citizenship of Canadian citizens who were born in China, this could have far-reaching implications. Chinese-Canadian immigrants of any ethnicity who travel to China or surrounding nations in the future could face the threat of arbitrary detention, imprisonment or deportation to China. Chinese-Canadians who were originally Chinese citizens may no longer be assured of their safety if they choose to travel to China in 2008 to attend the Olympic Games.
UHRP calls upon the Chinese government to immediately release Huseyin Celil from imprisonment and send him back to Canada, his country of citizenship. UHRP also urges the Canadian government to continue exploring all avenues to bring about Mr. Celil\’s safe return to Canada.