BEIJING – Canada has no right to interfere in the case of a Canadian Muslim activist sentenced this month to life in prison in China for alleged terror links, the Foreign Ministry said Thursday.
Huseyin Celil, whose wife and four children live in Burlington, Ont., was convicted of the crimes of “separating China” and “organizing, leading and participating in terrorist groups, organizations.”
Canada has been aggressively lobbying for his release and the dispute is expected to come up when Canadian Foreign Minister Peter MacKay visits China, April 29 to May 1.
“We believe the case is China’s internal affair and in essence relates to anti-terrorism,” said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao at a regular news briefing. “It has no connection with Canada. We hope the Canadian side will not interfere with China’s internal affairs under this pretext.”
Celil’s wife, Kamila Telendibaeva, is set to speak about her husband’s life sentence at a news conference in Ottawa on Thursday.
Celil, a member of the Uighur minority group in Xinjiang, was born and raised in China. He became wanted in the country after campaigning for the rights of the Uighur people in the early 1990s. He was arrested in 1994 and tortured, but escaped from prison in 2000 and fled to Uzbekistan and Turkey before reaching Canada, where he was given citizenship.
But during a March 2006 visit to his wife’s relatives in Uzbekistan, Celil was arrested and extradited to China.
His extradition has been a point of contention between Canada and China, which does not recognize Celil’s Canadian citizenship and says his case is not subject to consular agreements.
Tensions mounted in February after Celil made a court appearance at the Urumqi Intermediate People’s Court in Xinjiang’s capital without a Canadian diplomat present — a violation of his rights as a Canadian citizen.
Canada issued a statement expressing concern over Celil and urged the government to let embassy officials meet with him.
Liu said China was looking forward to MacKay’s visit but that it was unclear whether the issue of Celil would be addressed during talks with his Chinese counterpart Li Zhaoxing.
“We hope the visit can play a positive role in the improvement of China-Canada relations,” Liu said.