His only wish was Freedom

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Story of Celil

Huseyin Celil
was born in 1969 in Kashgar,
in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region
(XUAR) in northwest China. A Uyghur Mus-
lim with dual Canadian-Chinese citizenship,
he has been branded a terrorist in China,
and has reportedly been convicted of politi-
cal and religious separatism. His present
whereabouts are unknown.
Approximately eight million Uyghurs, a
Turkic, mainly Muslim ethnic group, make
up the majority of the population in the
XUAR, where they endure serious violations
of their civil, political, economic, social and
cultural rights by the Chinese government.
The XUAR, the western portion of which for-
merly comprised the Republic of Eastern
Turkistan, was occupied by Chinese Com-
munist forces in 1949 and became an
autonomous region of the People’s Repub-
lic of China (PRC) in 1956. Radical religious
separatists in the area, such as the East
Turkestan Islamic Movement, allegedly
have links with Al-Qaeda, a fact which the
Chinese government uses to consolidate
control over the region’s population.
Celil (pronounced Je-lil) is an outspoken
activist on behalf of Uyghur rights, which
first led to his arrest in China in 1994. He
escaped after a month in prison, purchasing
false documents to enter Uzbekistan, where
he found work as a fabric salesman. He met
a local woman, Kamila Telendibaeva, in
1998, and the two were married a year
later. They moved to Turkey, where Celil was
granted refugee status by the United
Nations High Commission for Refugees
under the Geneva Convention. In 2001 he
moved with his wife to Canada after being
granted political asylum there. The rest of
Celil’s family, including three sons from a
former marriage, remained in China.
Over the next four years, Celil and his
wife lived in Burlington, Ontario and had
three children. Celil became the imam at a
local mosque while studying accounting at
Mohawk College; friends describe him as a
highly respected and charismatic commu-
nity leader. Kamila was pregnant again in
March of this year when the whole family
traveled to Uzbekistan to stay with her rela-
tives. Celil’s other three sons joined them
from China to discuss plans to bring them
to Canada, which had stalled after they were
denied papers by the embassy in Beijing.
On March 27, 2006, Celil was detained
in Tashkent, the Uzbek capital. Concerns
immediately arose among family and
friends that he was being held so that he
could be extradited to China, where he had
been sentenced to death in absentia for his
alleged subversive activities in China and
following his escape, including founding a
separatist political party. Amnesty Interna-
tional has monitored a growing number of
overseas Uyghurs, including refugees and
asylum seekers, forcibly returned by neigh-
boring Central Asian countries to China
where they have subsequently been sub-
jected to human rights violations.
Celil had become a naturalized Cana-
dian citizen a few months before his deten-
tion, and his case was raised several times
in Canadian parliament and discussed in
the Canadian press. Many have expressed
concern about the implications for treat-
ment of all Canadian citizens in China, par-
ticularly in light of the approaching 2008
Beijing Olympic games, if the government is
not more active in pressing for Celil’s
release. Canada has no embassy in
Tashkent, only an honorary consulate
staffed by an Uzbek national.
International pressure has also been
levied on the Uzbek government. In May, the
Embassy of Uzbekistan in London
responded to appeals from Amnesty Inter-
national by releasing a statement saying
that Celil was Guler Dilaver, and was wanted
in Kyrgyzstan for terrorist activities, specifi-
cally involvement in an assassination and
attacks on visiting Xinjiang state officials in
Kyrgyzstan in 2000. Celil’s lawyer Chris
McLeod denied the allegations on the
grounds that Celil was living in Turkey under
United Nations High Commissioner for
Refugees (UNHCR) administration at the
time when the incidents occurred.
The Canadian consulate in Tashkent
confirmed in June that Celil had been extra-
dited to China as feared, in violation of con-
sular agreements between Canada and
China, and apparently after his innocence
in the Kyrgyzstan case had been estab-
lished by the Uzbek authorities.
The threat to Celil’s chances of a fair
trial, and consequently his life, increased
substantially on his removal to China due to
his involvement in the trial of another
Uyghur. Celil was named in the sentencing
document of Ismail Semed, whose trial took
place in China in October 2005 and who
may have already have been executed for
separatism. According to the Uyghur Human
Rights Project, another of Semed’s alleged
accomplices, Kurbin Yasim, was executed
shortly after being sent back to China fol-
lowing his detention by authorities in Kyr-
gyzstan. The only evidence against these
individuals was the testimony of witnesses
who, following interrogation by Chinese
police, were themselves executed in 1998.
Canadian Foreign Affairs minister Peter
McKay raised the case with Chinese author-
ities in July, but Canadian officials have yet
to be allowed consular access to Celil.
In September, unconfirmed information
was passed on to Celil’s sister Heyrigul by
police authorities in Kashgar saying that
Celil had been sentenced in early August to
15 years in prison, and that he might be
tried again. This was the first news of him in
four months, and prompted speculation that
he might be being held in Bajianghu Prison
in Urumqi, a facility known for housing politi-
cal prisoners. Heyrigul Celil, in China, con-
tinues to seek confirmation of her brother’s
exact location. Back in Burlington, Kamila,
who gave birth to Celil’s youngest son in
August, plans protests in Ottawa and waits
anxiously for further news.