- Thu, 07/05/2012 - 00:00
Thursday, July 05, 2012 4:00 AM
TORONTO - The wife of a Canadian citizen who is serving a life sentence in China for speaking out on behalf of the country's Uighur minority says the Canadian government has all but forgotten about him.
Kamila Talendibaeva says her husband, Huseyin Celil, a refugee from China's troubled Xinjiang region, is being punished because he spoke out about the democratic and religious rights for the Muslim minority group.
Human rights activists say Beijing considers anyone in the Uighur community who tries to promote their culture or religious values, or who speaks about greater autonomy for the Uighur people, a terrorist.
Talendibaeva says she will join a demonstration today in Toronto to mark the third anniversary of the July 2009 riots in Urumqi, China in which nearly 200 people were killed.
Junior foreign affairs minister Diane Ablonczy says her department was engaged in Celil's case but admits diplomatic hurdles complicated the government's attempt to push for his release.
She says China does not recognize dual citizenship and they do not, as a consequence, recognize Canada's right to have consular access to one of its imprisoned citizens.
"They have not been willing to budge off that position although we continue to press them and will continue to press them," Ablonczy said.
Celil escaped from China in 1994 when the terrorism charges first surfaced. He fled to Turkey where he was granted refugee status by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees. He became a Canadian citizen in 2001, when he moved to Ontario and settled in the Hamilton area.
In 2006, while visiting his wife's family in Uzbekistan, Celil was detained by Uzbek police and deported to China without the consent of the Canadian government.
Wayne Marston, NDP critic for human rights, said that the trumped up terrorism charges are typical in China for silencing dissent.
"Anybody that appears to have expressed concerns about the regime in China is subject to those terrorism laws and the abuse of them," he said.
Celil's wife said it's been months since she last received an update on her husband's case from the Canadian government.
"I'm frustrated," Talendibaeva told The Canadian Press from her home in Burlington, where she lives with her four young sons.
"I didn't receive anything from the Foreign Affairs Department and I didn't get any information from the Chinese authorities," she said.
Celil's sister has been the only person allowed to visit him in prison — for 40 minutes behind a glass enclosure every six months, Talendibaeva said. No other visitors have been given access, including Talendibaeva and the couple's children.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper raised Celil's case with Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao during a visit to Beijing earlier this year.
But Harper's strong statements on China's human rights record did not sit well with the Chinese government and may have hurt Celil's chances of release, Marston said.
"There were times that if you handed the Chinese a note with 20 names on it of people who were detained, without too much commentary at all — three, four months later they would start surfacing and would actually get released," he said.
"But if, on the other hand, you were to, like our prime minister apparently did, make the public announcement that he is going to talk to them about their human rights record, that kind of slows processes altogether," he said.