After human-rights activist Huseyin Celil, a Canadian citizen, was condemned to life in prison by a Chinese court yesterday, a Foreign Ministry spokesman in Beijing issued a pointed warning to the Canadian government to mind its own business. “We hope that Canada won’t use this to interfere in China’s domestic affairs and also hope that Chinese-Canadian relations won’t be affected,” declared Liu Jianchao. “Canada should be extremely clear on China’s position that the case of Celil is entirely China’s domestic matter.”
Beijing’s rebuke is as outrageous as its treatment of Mr. Celil, and Ottawa was right to respond with a formal diplomatic protest. Chinese authorities should be under no illusion that they can arbitrarily trample on the rights of a Canadian citizen and ignore their obligations under international agreements without being called to account for their actions.
Mr. Celil was convicted for supposedly organizing and participating in terrorist-related activities and plotting the separation of his people, the Uyghurs. This largely Muslim, Turkic-language group of more than eight million people has suffered mightily at the hands of the Chinese Communists, who have a long history of repressing the political, religious and cultural rights of ethnic minorities, Since 9/11, the Chinese have found it convenient to label Muslim activists such as Mr. Celil as terrorists.
Mr. Celil had his first brush with the Chinese justice system in 1994, when, as a young imam, he was sent to prison. His crime: using a megaphone to amplify the call to prayers at his mosque, in violation of Chinese restrictions on Muslim religious activities. After deciding to flee the country, he eventually made his way to Uzbekistan using false documents and was later granted refugee status in Turkey. He moved to Canada with his wife in 2001 and they became citizens in 2005.
His current plight began more than a year ago when he was arrested in Uzbekistan while visiting his wife’s family and travelling on his new Canadian passport. The Uzbek regime, which maintains close ties to Beijing, extradited him to China over Canadian objections, in a clear violation of international law. Now China has dispensed its particular brand of kangaroo-court justice, disposing of Mr. Celil’s case behind closed doors, without giving him proper legal representation or access to Canadian consular officials and without letting him challenge the evidence concocted against him. There are reports that he was tortured while awaiting trial, which would be yet another breach of international law.
Foreign Minister Peter MacKay says the government will review its 1999 agreement with China on consular relations, which ensures prompt notification if any Canadian is detained and grants access to consular officials “as soon as possible.” That’s a good idea, considering that Beijing obviously regards it as meaningless. Canada should continue to protest vigorously against the terrible treatment of a Canadian citizen, regardless of Beijing’s veiled threats.