No execution yet for Canadian, China says

Breaking its silence, China has publicly stated that it is not about to execute a Chinese Canadian citizen it has charged with terrorism offences. Regardless, fears of capital punishment are prompting activists to urge Prime Minister Stephen Harper to get off the sidelines and plead for clemency.

China has so far rebuffed all attempts by Canadian diplomats to visit Huseyincan Celil, who is being held in an undisclosed Chinese prison. The 37-year-old, who was arrested this spring while travelling on a recently acquired Canadian passport, is being denied legal protections usually granted to Canadians jailed abroad.

The Chinese statement indicates his status is not about to change just yet. “Huseyincan is a Chinese citizen suspected of having taken part in East Turkestan terrorist activities,” a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman told the Reuters news agency in Beijing. “The case is being handled according to law and no verdict has been reached yet.”

Mr. Celil’s relatives in Canada have said they had heard from sources in China that his execution could come as soon as today. Yet Ottawa officials say they have been given assurances he won’t face the death penalty.

China’s justice system is rarely transparent, though Canada has tried to change that. A decade ago, the countries signed a bilateral agreement granting Ottawa officials access to detainees holding Canadian passports. Last month, Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Peter MacKay, discussed the case with his Chinese counterpart. Yet these initiatives appear to have had little bearing on Mr. Celil’s case.

In fact, Amnesty International Canada and two opposition MPs will hold a press conference in Toronto today to demand direct prime ministerial action. Yesterday, 50 Canadian Muslim leaders also released a signed statement urging Mr. Harper to get involved.

The suspect, who recently led prayers at a Hamilton mosque, came to Canada in 2001 as a refugee fleeing Chinese persecution. He was arrested in April while visiting family in Uzbekistan, which extradited him in June to face the long-standing terrorism charges in China.

Sources have told The Globe and Mail that Mr. Harper is prepared to call Chinese leaders to plead the case, but only if plans to execute Mr. Celil can be confirmed.

Previous prime ministers were more eager to intervene in similar cases. In 2002, Jean Chrétien wrote a letter to Syria’s president, asking that “urgent attention” be given to the case of prisoner Maher Arar. The appeal is widely credited with paving the way for the release of the former al-Qaeda suspect, who returned to Canada to garner sympathy for his account of being wrongly profiled and tortured.

Conversely, Mr. Chrétien’s intervention for detained Canadian Ahmed Said Khadr, imprisoned in Pakistan, still causes security agencies conniptions today. Years after Mr. Khadr was freed, the onetime bombing suspect was hailed as a hero by al-Qaeda leaders, but only after he was killed in battle by the Pakistani military.

Family and friends of Mr. Celil say that he has never been violent, and point out that the UN High Commission for Refugees accepted his account of being an oppressed man who faced trumped-up charges in his homeland. Human Rights Watch has released detailed accounts of the Uighurs facing religious repression in China.


What’s a Uighur?

Uighurs (pronouced wee-gurs), are a Muslim minority people in China who live mostly in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, which some want to make independent from Beijing.

People: Uighurs are direct descendants of the Huns and number 7.2 million in Xinjiang, 500,000 in parts of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan, and almost 75,000 in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Europe and North America. Almost all Uighurs are Sunni Muslims.

Language: The Uighur language, similar to Uzbek, is one of the Turkic tongues that share an origin with Turkish. It uses the Arabic script.with Turkish. It uses the Arabic script.

East Turkestan: Separatist Uighur groups have been fighting for the past 150 years to make Xinjiang an independent homeland they would call East Turkestan, possessing one third of China’s petroleum reserves and two thirds of its coal. Beijing has sought international support for its campaign against the separatists, whom it accuses of staging a series of bombings, uprisings and assassinations since the 1980s and training and fighting alongside the al-Qaeda network. Several Uighurs captured in Afghanistan are among the detainees at the U.S. base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Written by: Colin Freeze
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