PM expected to ask about Burlington man in Chinese jail
  • Mon, 02/06/2012 - 00:00

Daniel Nolan
Mon Feb 06 2012

The plight of a Burlington man in a Chinese jail for what supporters say are trumped-up terrorism charges is expected to be raised by Prime Minister Stephen Harper during his visit to China.

The trip this week will be dominated by trade — likely regarding oil from the Alberta tarsands — but the PM’s spokesperson said his boss won’t shy away from raising human rights issues with his Chinese hosts.

“The promotion and protection of human rights is a big part of Canada’s foreign policy and a priority in our long-standing relationship with China,” press secretary Carl Vallee told The Spectator, though he declined to comment on Huseyin Celil’s case because of privacy laws.

“Canada has a frank, open and forward-looking relationship with China. We take every opportunity to express our human rights concerns to the Chinese government.”

Harper did raise Celil’s plight with Chinese President Hu Jintao during a 2006 meeting in Hanoi, but it appeared more to anger the Chinese. Still, Burlington MP Mike Wallace says the issue of Celil’s imprisonment remains a top issue with the Conservative government and reiterates that the prime minister “is not shy about talking about human rights.”

Harper, who leaves for China Monday, is to meet with President Hu and Premier Wen Jiabao.

Celil, 42, was arrested in Uzbekistan in 2006 during a family trip and deported to China to face terrorism charges. The father of six is a native Uighur who worked on human rights for his people in China in the 1990s before he fled the country.

The Uighurs are a Turkish-speaking ethnic group primarily living in the Xinjiang region in northwest China. Long-simmering resentment among Uighurs over rule by the Han Chinese majority has sporadically erupted into violence. Clashes in July of 2009 killed 156 people.

Celil came to Canada in 2001 as a refugee from Turkey and became a Canadian citizen in 2005. He was convicted of terrorism and was sentenced to life in prison. Supporters say the charge is trumped up and meant to send a message to others who work for human rights. He is in the Bajiahu prison in Urumqi. China does not recognize his Canadian citizenship, so he is unable to get consul visits.

Celil’s wife, Kamila Telendibaeva, 32, said she makes reports to Foreign Affairs every time she hears from relatives who visit him in prison for about 45 minutes. She said Celil’s mother and sister were visiting him every three months, but in January, prison officials suddenly and without explanation told them to visit in six months.

“He’s alone,” said Telendibaeva, who also said she is not permitted to send him letters. “He’s always asking to see the Canadian consul, but the Chinese will not give him permission.”

She said the last six years have been “hard and difficult” and that their four boys — age 13, 9, 7, and 4 — “ask about their father every day.” Celil has two other children from his first wife.

dnolan@thespec.com

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