Sunday, April 29, 2007

Life in prison for Celil

China claims Canadian conducted separatist and terrorist activities

By Dana Borcea
The Hamilton Spectator
(Apr 20, 2007)

Kamila Telendibaeva stayed up late to find out if and when she would ever see her husband again.

The call she was waiting for came from foreign affairs just after 1 a.m. yesterday.

The news was bad.

Huseyin Celil, a Canadian citizen, was sentenced to life in prison in China for alleged separatist and terrorist activities.

"I was expecting three, maybe four years," a still stunned Telendibaeva said yesterday in her Burlington townhouse.

She insists her husband is innocent and being targeted by Chinese officials for seeking justice for Western China's Muslim, Turkish-speaking Uyghur minority.

"He was fighting for human rights," she said.

Celil, 38, was arrested in Uzbekistan in March 2006 while the couple was visiting Telendibaeva's family.

Originally from China, Celil escaped to Uzbekistan and then Turkey, fleeing Chinese authorities.

He came to Canada as a refugee six years ago and became a citizen in 2005.

Telendibaeva said they risked a trip back to the region to visit her sick mother. They figured their Canadian passports would guarantee their safety.

Since returning from Uzbekistan without her husband last year, the 29-year-old has raised their four children alone.

Her oldest, Mohammad, 7, is wheelchair-bound and suffers from severe developmental disabilities.

Her youngest has never met his father.

Telendibaeva was three months pregnant with Zubyir when Celil was arrested.

She has decided to put off telling her sons the truth about their father.

"I show them his picture and always just say he's going to come home."

Even after a sleepless night, Telendibaeva appeared composed and resolved.

"I will fight every day to bring him home," she said. "I will never give up. Not ever."

Between back-to-back phone calls and a barrage of questions from a small army of reporters parked in her modest but immaculate living room, she said she would continue petitioning Canadian government officials to bring her husband home.

She has been in daily contact with Canadian officials for several months but complains more should have been done earlier to pressure officials.

Despite a one-on-one meeting with Prime Minister Stephen Harper last October and a call from Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay yesterday morning, Telendibaeva said Canada should have stood up for her husband much earlier.

"It's not enough. He is still in jail."

A foreign affairs spokesperson provided no response to the criticism.

An Asia region campaigner with Amnesty International agreed the Canadian government should have pressed harder.

"I believe there was more they could have done," said Cheryl Hotchkiss.

She added Amnesty was concerned for Celil's safety given his lack of consular access and the threat of torture he faces in a Chinese prison.

Hotchkiss said "consistently applied international pressure" could help win an appeal and fair trial for Celil.

Relatives who were in court Wednesday to witness Celil's brief sentencing said he did not appear physically harmed.

They told Telendibaeva he spoke only briefly and told the court, "It's not fair, it's all lies."


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