The wife of a Canadian Muslim activist imprisoned in China says she was disappointed but not surprised by news that a Chinese court had rejected her husband’s appeal of a life sentence on terrorism-related charges.
Kamila Telendibaeva, speaking from Burlington, Ont., said she received the news about her husband Huseyin Celil’s appeal at about 1 a.m. Tuesday morning.
The judge in the high court in far west China refused to allow Celil’s lawyer to speak in the court, and rejected the appeal after just 15 minutes.
“You know, we didn’t expect more from China. It’s China. China does whatever they want to do. It wasn’t a surprise for us but I would love to expect more,” Telendibaeva told CTV Newsnet on Tuesday.
Celil was picked up in Uzbekistan in late March 2006 and returned to China under a prisoner-handover agreement, where he has been imprisoned ever since.
Telendibaeva said the absence of her husband has been difficult for her family, and she is relying on the support of those around her.
“Our children are doing fine but they are asking every day for their father, and if you have a family, you can understand, with four boys, it’s just extremely difficult,” she said.
“It’s just terrible. I have a mosque here, they are helping and they are coming to visit my children, and just around the community and friends.”
CTV’s Steve Chao said there seemed to be little flexibility in the judge’s decision.
“The judge… allowed the appeal to go on for only 15 minutes,” Chao reported from Baotou, Inner Mongolia.
“He refused to allow Celil’s lawyer to present his case and basically laid out the verdict rejecting any appeal.
“This essentially means that Celil will have to serve his life sentence for accusations that, according to the family, have not been proven in any of the trials or hearings.”
The official Xinhua News Agency reported Tuesday that the High People’s Court in China’s Xinjiang region has upheld the life sentence because the “facts were clear, evidence was reliable and adequate.”
Last April, a Chinese court found him guilty for the two crimes of “separating China and … organizing, leading and participating in terrorist groups, organizations.”
Celil, who belongs to the Uighur Muslim minority of far western China, holds Canadian citizenship. The Chinese-born man came to Canada via Uzbekistan and Turkey after escaping from a Chinese jail in 2000.
He had been picked up in Uzbekistan in late March 2006 and returned to China.
Chinese authorities claim that militants among the Uighurs — Turkic-speaking Muslims — are backing a violent Islamic separatist movement in an attempt to set up an independent state of “East Turkistan.”
Chao said Celil’s family says he is being held in jail because he is a human rights activist.
Celil’s case has put a strain on Canada-China relations since the country does not recognize his Canadian citizenship and claims that his case is not subject to consular agreements.
Chinese officials claim Celil was born in China, and therefore he is a Chinese citizen and will be tried as one.
But Celil’s lawyer in Canada says this runs contrary to Chinese law, and that the issue is really about the Chinese government wanting to deny Canadian officials access to Celil.
“By China’s own nationality law — Article 9 — a person who has originally had Chinese citizenship is deemed to have renounced that citizenship when they become a citizen of another country,” lawyer Chris MacLeod told CTV Newsnet in a phone interview from Hamilton, Ont.
“Under international law, any citizen of another country, when detained by a separate nation, has to afford government officials access to that individual. There has to be a fair and a transparent trial, and counsel at the individual’s choice pursuant to the Vienna convention,” MacLeod continued.
“If China does recognize Huseyin Celil as a Canadian citizen and acknowledge that, then they clearly have to comply with their international obligations. By saying he’s not a Canadian citizen, they are saying that ‘we have no international obligation to you, Canada.'”
In 2000, Celil said he escaped from a Chinese prison where he claims to have been tortured. He fled to Uzbekistan and Turkey before reaching Canada, where he was granted citizenship.
Rodney Moore, a spokesperson for the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs, told The Canadian Press Tuesday that his office was examining the Chinese court’s decision and will “comment at the appropriate time.”