China aspires to be a respected member of the international community, yet its justice system still clings to its totalitarian ways. This week, a Chinese superior court dismissed an appeal by a Canadian citizen, Huseyin Celil, in under 40 minutes, without allowing Mr. Celil or his lawyer a chance to speak. Chinese justice is surely efficient, but it is not justice; the treatment of Mr. Celil is a reminder that behind the Chinese economic miracle, repression is ever-present.

At the Celil appeal hearing, China slammed the courtroom door shut in Canada’s face. A Canadian consular official was made to stand in the hallway outside. The Chinese, annoyed by Canada’s forceful representations thus far on Mr. Celil’s behalf, were making the point that Mr. Celil’s case is an internal matter. This is the rebuke common to totalitarian regimes, which have no other explanation for their archaic ways. But closing the courtroom to the Canadian government merely underlines that China is, or should be, embarrassed by what goes on in its courts.

In a country without a tradition of judicial independence, justice is necessarily corrupt; judges are subject to political influence, and more than 99 per cent of criminal prosecutions result in convictions. It should probably be no surprise, then, when corruption is woven through other parts of government, such as the food and drug inspection departments. This week, the former head of the State Food and Drug Administration was executed for accepting cash for untested drugs. (His appeals were dismissed just six weeks after he was sentenced to death. The Chinese authorities do not believe in justice delayed.) Corruption of justice is a powerful signal to the rest of the country.

Mr. Celil, who moved to Canada in 2001 and became a citizen two years ago, was sentenced to life in prison for supposedly plotting terror and separation on behalf of the Uyghur people, a mostly Muslim group of eight million seeking independence for the western region of Xinjiang, in which they predominate. (China nabbed him as he travelled in Uzbekistan, which extradited him despite Canadian objections.) Since Sept. 11, 2001, the Chinese have found it useful to label Uyghur activists terrorists.

Canada should continue to press Mr. Celil’s case, and the broader cause of judicial reform in China. If China truly wants to clean up corruption, it might start by allowing the judges to be independent.

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