This month’s appearance of a letter purportedly written by Burlington resident Huseyin Celil from a Chinese prison is disturbing.
When taken at face value, the letter is a desperate cry for help from a man sentenced to life for what he, his family and Amnesty International officials maintain was nothing more than human rights work.
In the 1990s Celil represented the interests of his native Uyghur people — nearly 10 million of whom inhabit Eastern Turkestan, also known as Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR).
In the text of his recent letter — written in Uyghur and translated to English — he asks why no one from Canada has come to visit him and hear his side of the story.
“So far nearly two years I have not seen any one from Canada,” the father of six wrote in a letter dated March 10 of this year.
Ironically, the letter coincides with a failed prison visit by some of Celil’s family that same month — a visit that saw Chinese officials claim that Celil was no longer at the prison while instructing his relatives to return in three months.
Surely, Celil’s faith in the country he has called home since 2001 — having escaped China in the ’90s — must be severely shaken.
Since his arrest in March 2006 while visiting family in Uzbekistan, and subsequent extradition to China in June of that year, Canadian government officials say they’ve been working on the Celil case. However, Ottawa’s progress has been minimal while contact with Celil has been virtually non-existent for months.
Chinese officials denied Celil any Canadian government representation at trial and subsequent sentencing. Burlington Conservative MP Mike Wallace remains confident that others within the Canadian government with more political authority than he are actively pursuing the Celil case.
With the Beijing Olympic Games to open in 69 days, we believe there will never be a better time for Canada to exert political pressure for access to Huseyin Celil and no greater opportunity to pursue his negotiated release than when the world’s attention will be focused on China.
To do nothing, sends Celil and his family the message that he’s a man without a country.