Uyghur Canadian sentenced to life on “terrorism” charges

For immediate release
April 19, 2007, 7:30 EST
Contact: Uyghur American Association +1 (202) 349 1496

Huseyin CelilThe Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP) has learned that Uyghur-Canadian Huseyin Celil was sentenced to life today by a Chinese court on charges of “terrorist activities” and “plotting to split the country”. The verdict, announced by the Intermediate People’s Court of Urumchi, also states that Celil will be deprived of his political rights for life. Celil is the second Uyghur activist sentenced this week by the Urumchi court, just two days after Ablikim Abdureyim, son of prominent human rights defender and leader of the Uyghur movement Rebiya Kadeer, was sentenced to nine years in prison.

“The Chinese authorities have gone too far in rushing to give harsh sentences to Huseyin Celil and my son Ablikim at a time when China is preparing to hold the 2008 Olympic Games to show the world its great achievements and progress,” said Ms. Kadeer.

Huseyin Celil was formerly a charismatic imam based in Toronto, and became a Canadian citizen in November 2005. He originally fled from the Chinese authorities in the late 1990s, after having served a prison term on charges relating to allegedly founding a political party in East Turkistan, the region now designated by the Chinese government as the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.

Upon being granted his Canadian citizenship, Mr. Celil went to Uzbekistan to try and meet with the parents of his wife, who is originally from Uzbekistan. However, he was detained by Uzbek authorities in March 2006 when he tried to renew his visa, reportedly at the request of the Kyrgyz authorities who wanted to question him in connection with crimes committed in Kyrgyzstan in the year 2000. Celil’s detention occurred despite the fact that he was unequivocally cleared of any involvement in those crimes, as he was in Turkey under the protection of the UNHCR at the time. Chinese authorities subsequently secured his repatriation from Uzbekistan in June 2006.

Chinese authorities claim that Mr. Celil was involved in “terrorist” activities, although it is not publicly known what he is suspected of actually doing to warrant this accusation. Since 9/11, the Chinese authorities have tended to brand all Uyghur political opposition as being terrorist, separatist, or inspired by religious extremism. Human rights groups believe that Mr. Celil has been charged with alleged terrorist crimes in response to the peaceful political activities he engaged in before he left East Turkistan. Despite repeated Canadian demands for consular access to Mr. Celil, Chinese authorities denied any such access and ignored his Canadian citizenship, claiming that he remains a Chinese citizen.

According to Article 9 of the Nationality Law of the People’s Republic of China, any Chinese national who has settled abroad and who has been naturalized as a foreign national or has acquired foreign nationality of his own free will shall automatically lose Chinese nationality. Since Celil, a former Chinese national, has been naturalized as a Canadian citizen and acquired Canadian citizenship of his own free will, the law stipulates that he lost his Chinese nationality after becoming a Canadian citizen. According to this law, the Chinese government has no right to deny his Canadian citizenship.

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. Therefore, it is extremely important for Canadian Foreign Minister Peter MacKay to press China to recognize Celil’s Canadian citizenship when he visits Beijing at the end of April.

“The Chinese authorities, by sentencing Celil today on charges of “terrorist activities” and “plotting to split the country”, and by sentencing Ablikim Tuesday on charges of “instigating and engaging in secessionist activities,” are attempting to send a strong message to both the international community and the Uyghur people that they are bent on suppressing Uyghur people’s demand for human rights, in spite of international concern,” said Ms. Kadeer.

Furthermore, the Chinese government recently established two groups – Xinjiang and Tibet Working Groups – to deal specifically with Uyghur and Tibetan issues, according to an article published last week by Hong Kong’s Sing Tao Daily. The article reports that Chinese analysts, by looking at the members comprising the Xinjiang and Tibet Working Groups, say this suggests that the Chinese government will adopt an even more aggressive policy toward Xinjiang. The article says that Luo Gan, Secretary General of the Central Political and Legislative Committee, heads the Xinjiang Working Group; and that Hui Liangyu, Vice Premier, and Wang Lequan, member of the Central Political Bureau and Party Secretary of Xinjiang, will act as deputy group leaders. It also says that the Tibet Working Group is headed by Jia Qinglin, Chairman of the National Political Consultative Conference, and that Zhou Yongkang, Minister of the Public Security Ministry, and Hua Jianming, General Secretary of the State Cabinet, will act as deputy group leaders.

UHRP believes that a more aggressive policy towards the Uyghurs in East Turkistan is not conducive to the long-term stability of the region. Therefore, 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 calls upon the international community to continue to intervene on behalf of Ms. Kadeer’s son Ablikim, as well as her son Alim, who is currently serving a seven-year prison sentence – and to work toward securing their release as soon as possible.