For more than two months, a Canadian citizen has languished in a Chinese jail. And for more than two months, in defiance of its international obligations, China has refused to allow Canadian diplomats to meet with him. In fact, despite the personal intervention of Foreign Minister Peter MacKay, China has merely said that it will not seek the death penalty against Uzbekistan-born Huseyin Celil. Not another word about his fate.
Such conduct violates China’s own commitments. In 1979, it endorsed the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations of 1963. Under Article 36, consular officials “have the right to visit a national . . . who is in prison, custody or detention, to converse and correspond with him and to arrange for his legal representation.”
Two decades later, China signed a solemn consular agreement with Canada that came into force in 1999. Under Article 8, “a consular officer shall be entitled to visit a national . . . who is under detention, arrest or deprived of freedom in any other means.” China also agreed to notify Canada of the arrest of any national “without delay” or, at the very least, “as soon as possible.” Consular officials have a right to visit “as soon as possible.” What could be clearer?
The circumstances around Mr. Celil’s arrest remain murky. According to his distraught family, he was arrested while visiting his wife’s relatives in Uzbekistan last March. Uzbekistan, in turn, extradited him to China, where he is alleged to have been involved in terrorist activities. His family denies the allegations. In 1994, Mr. Celil had managed to escape a Chinese prison where he faced charges for alleged separatist activities in China’s far-western Xinjiang region. Today, China has given no indication of where or how he is.
This is unacceptable. It is not a question of what Mr. Celil has done, or not done.He is a Canadian citizen, and China has pledged to uphold his rights as a Canadian citizen. It should do so.