The department of Foreign Affairs was scrambling for information Friday after word that a Canadian man being held in China could be executed as early as next week, The Globe and Mail has learned.

Canadian Huseyin Celil’s sister in China called the imprisoned man’s wife in Burlington, Ont., on Tuesday, saying he was being held in a Kashgar prison and could be executed by Aug. 10 Mr. Celil’s wife, Kamila Telendibaeva, said a Kashgar police officer leaked the details to her sister-in-law, who has been trying to find his whereabouts for weeks.

“She was crying when she called me,” said Ms. Telendibaeva. “I told her not to cry because there is still time. Time is running out but we can still save him.”

Mr. Celil (pronounced je-lil) was arrested in Uzbekistan in March while visiting his wife’s family. In June, he was extradited to China, where he could face the death penalty for an alleged involvement in “separatist” activities.

Until now, Canadian officials had no idea where Mr. Celil was being held because the Chinese government wouldn’t disclose the location. It also wouldn’t recognize Mr. Celil’s Canadian citizenship, which he earned in November of last year.

Born in China’s far-western Xinjiang province, Mr. Celil is a Uighur – a Muslim, Turkic-language minority group that has long fought with the Chinese government for greater freedom.

Chinese officials say Mr. Celil is a terrorist who, among other things, helped assassinate a political leader in Kyrgyzstan – an allegation his family and his lawyer staunchly refute.

Government officials were tipped off about the phone call on Wednesday by Mohamed Tohti, a friend of Mr. Celil and president of the Uyghur Canadian Association.

“After I got the shocking news from Kamila I shared this information with government officials,” said Mr. Tohti, who has been in close contact with Conservative MP Jason Kenney, the parliamentary secretary to Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Mr. Kenney, who was attending a caucus retreat in Cornwall, Ont. on Friday, said he found the reports very troubling and the government would do everything possible to confirm their truth.

“Should we confirm the veracity of these reports, the government will obviously express its concern in the most serious terms possible,” said Mr. Kenney.

Sources told The Globe that Mr. Kenney met with Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay for 30 minutes on Thursday to discuss the issue and that a Canadian consular official in China was dispatched to find out more information about Mr. Celil’s condition and to confirm the allegations about the possible execution order.

Mr. Harper may also soon become involved in the case. Sources said he would place a phone call to Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao or President Hu Jintao if it is confirmed that Mr. Celil faces death.

For weeks, Canadian officials have been frustrated with their Chinese counterparts as they attempt to gain information on Mr. Celil’s detainment.

“The Uzbeki authorities advised our government that, prior to his extradition to China, they had received assurances from the (People’s Republic of China) that he would not face capital punishment pursuant to his apparent conviction in absentia,” said Mr. Kenney.

“We would certainly hold the Chinese government to that undertaking and our officials bare working actively to verify his whereabouts and take the next steps,” he said.

It is also an obligation of China to provide consular access to Mr. Celil, said Mr. Kenney, something the Chinese government has so far refused.

But critics say the government isn’t doing enough.

“Foreign Affairs needs to act with great speed; Mr. Celil is in danger,” said Chris McLeod, the imprisoned man’s lawyer. “The government simply isn’t doing enough. They need to send an envoy now. The Prime Minister needs to intervene in a very direct way. Whether that means recalling our ambassador, something needs to be done.”

In 1994, Mr. Celil was arrested in China on charges of forming a political party, his wife said. After serving just a month in prison, he escaped, eventually buying false documents to enter Uzbekistan. He eventually landed in Turkey before being granted refugee status in Canada in 2001.

Meanwhile, in China, a court sentenced Mr. Celil to death in absentia for his alleged role in the anti-government political movement. His wife believes the conviction will allow the Chinese to speed up a possible execution.

“How can I raise my children if I don’t have a husband and they don’t have a father,” said Ms. Telendibaeva, who is due to give birth to her fourth child in less than three weeks. “He will be killed if we don’t act now.”

Before his arrest, Mr. Celil was an imam at a Hamilton mosque and studying accounting at Mohawk College.

Written by: Scott Roberts
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