Thursday, February 8, 2007

Family claims Chinese-Canadian tortured in China

Updated Thu. Feb. 8 2007 10:09 PM ET News Staff

The family of a Chinese-Canadian imprisoned in China on terror-related charges spoke with CTV News inside the country, despite the fear that police would arrest them for talking to the foreign press.

Huseyin Celil's sister, mother and older brother met CTV's Steve Chao to speak out about his alleged mistreatment.

"He is being tortured by Chinese police," said Celil's mother. "They forced him to sign a confession, or he would be put in a hole and buried alive."

Celil himself has told a courtroom he was tortured by secret police. However, no Canadian envoys were in the courtroom Friday when Celil, a former Muslim leader from Hamilton, made the rare appearance. His sister and son attended.

In response to the report, the federal government said it dispatched diplomats to Urumqi, China, with orders they remain there indefinitely, The Globe and Mail reports.

Celil has been in Chinese custody on terror-related charges since March, when he was detained in Uzbekistan while visiting his wife's family, then sent to China under an extradition agreement between the two nations.

"He's just a loving family man who cares for his children and wants peace," said his mother.

"All I want is for a chance to see him one last time."

China has refused to recognize Celil's Canadian citizenship and has denied him access to Canadian consular officials. His Canadian lawyer has been unable to speak with him, and his wife Kamila Telendibaeva hasn't seen him in almost a year.

His family says the 38-year-old is being persecuted because he is an Uighur Muslim and a political dissident who fled his homeland in the 1990s.

The Uighur people have demanded autonomy, angering Chinese officials who have long accused members of the Muslim minority group of terrorism.

Celil's imprisonment has caused friction between Canada and China -- a nation whose human rights record has been publicly questioned by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, among others.

In fact, Harper pointedly spoke about Celil with Chinese President Hu Jintao while in Vietnam, where the two leaders were among 21 gathered for the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation summit last November.

Harper also referred to Celil while en route to that conference.

"When a Canadian citizen is taken from a third country and imprisoned in China, this is a serious concern to this country," he said.

More recently, unnamed Canadian officials this week took to the media to slam Canadian diplomats for their failure to attend the hearing, and there were reports that Harper himself was upset at the handling of the case, The Globe reports.

Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay's spokesman, Dan Dugas, told The Globe that MacKay had personally called the Canadian embassy in Beijing.

"The Chinese government is not co-operating with the Canadian mission in China and we aren't going to stop asking them for what's happening with Mr. Celil," said Dugas. He would not comment directly on claims Harper was angered that no official was in the court.

"I can tell you he is not happy either," Dugas said, referring to MacKay. "He's asking for answers. He wants to know what is being done and what the next steps are going to be."

With a report by CTV's Steve Chao in Urumqi, China

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