For the first time since he was arrested in Uzbekistan and handed to China some 18 months ago, Canadian citizen Huseyin Celil was allowed to meet his mother and sister in person yesterday.

But Mr. Celil’s supporters believe the meeting is a sign Mr. Celil’s appeals have come to an end, and all that’s left is for the onetime Burlington, Ont., resident to spend the rest of his life in a Chinese prison.

Chinese authorities have labelled Mr. Celil a terrorist and charged him with engaging in violent separatist activities. In April he was sentenced to life in prison.

Mr. Celil was allowed to meet his mother and one of his sisters yesterday, according to Mehmet Tohti, head of the Uyghur Canadian Association.

Canadian officials accompanied the family to the prison, Mr. Tohti said, but did not attend the meeting.

The meeting, which lasted about an hour, took place in a prison about 70 kilometres away from Urumqi, the city where some of Mr. Celil’s legal proceedings took place.

“They just cried and were hugging each other,” Mr. Tohti said.

“For the first few minutes they couldn’t talk — it was a very emotional time.”

The family were allowed to eat together, Mr. Tohti said, adding that Mr. Celil did not show signs of physical torture, but had been kept in isolation during his incarceration.

For the first time, Mr. Celil also shed some light about his experiences after his arrest.

According to Mr. Tohti, the imprisoned Canadian said his time in an Uzbekistani jail right after he was arrested last year was the worst period, during which he was beaten by prison guards.

Mr. Celil is an ethnic Uyghur, a Muslim minority group that resides primarily in the Xinjiang region of northwest China.

He and his wife fled to Canada and received Canadian citizenship in November of 2005.

Mr. Celil was arrested in Uzbekistan and handed over to China more than a year ago. He was travelling on a Canadian passport at the time of his arrest.

His case has strained relations between China and Ottawa, as government officials in Canada continued to protest against his detention without consular access. Human-rights groups have also expressed concerns that Mr. Celil has been tortured while in Chinese custody.

While visiting Mr. Celil, his mother and sister were told the prisoner was due to be moved to another jail in about a month, Mr. Tohti said, adding that the visit with family and the planned move likely signal an end to Mr. Celil’s chances of appealing his sentence.

If they transfer him, it means the Chinese government has shut the door for other legal steps,” Mr. Tohti said.

“That is the end of the game.”

Written by: OMARL EL AKKAD
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