After months in an isolation cell, Huseyin Celil is so desperate for company that he asked to be moved anywhere, even to a labour camp, so he can talk to other people and see the sunlight.

Mr. Celil made his plea during the first meeting with his family for months. Relatives say they were finally allowed to see him this month, in a 30-minute meeting monitored and recorded by about 10 Chinese police officers.

In the meeting with his mother, his sister and two of his sons, Mr. Celil said he was being held in solitary confinement and given just one meal a day, passed through a hole in his cell door every lunchtime. Saying he was becoming increasingly desperate, he asked that he be moved anywhere else.

The meeting between Mr. Celil and his family took place on July 10 – one day after Prime Minister Stephen Harper asked Chinese President Hu Jintao to allow Canadian diplomats and relatives to visit the Canadian citizen.

Mr. Harper made the request during the Group of Eight summit in Japan. According to the Prime Minister’s Office, Mr. Hu agreed to pass the request on to local authorities.

Given that Mr. Celil’s family had to travel more than 1,000 kilometres from their home to the northwestern China prison where he is being held, it is unclear whether the meeting was arranged as a result of the Prime Minister’s request. However, Canada has been pushing China for months to give Mr. Celil greater access to visitors.

In March, The Globe and Mail reported that Canadian officials called the Chinese ambassador to ask that Beijing tell Mr. Celil’s family where he is being held.

It appears Mr. Celil had not been moved to another prison, but was simply denied access to visitors.

Mr. Celil is an ethnic Uyghur, a Muslim minority group that resides primarily in the Xinjiang region of northwestern 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 in the summer of 2006. He was travelling on a Canadian passport at the time.

China accused him of terrorism and sentenced him to life in prison. China has never recognized Mr. Celil’s Canadian citizenship and he has never been allowed to meet Canadian consular officials.

Mehmet Tohti, a Uyghur activist and member of the Uyghur Canadian Association, spoke to Mr. Celil’s family in China by phone after their meeting. He said relatives told him there were about 10 Chinese police officers in the room, writing down what was being said and tape-recording the conversation.

Mr. Celil and his family were separated by iron bars, he said, but could touch one another.

“[Mr. Celil’s mother]told me, ‘We cried for the first five or 10 minutes without saying anything,’ ” Mr. Tohti said.

Mr. Tohti said prisoners who can afford it can purchase more meals in the prison. “China has turned the prison into an enterprise like that,’ he said.

Compared to a flurry of activity in the months after his arrest and Chinese trial, Canada has slowly ramped down its efforts on Mr. Celil’s behalf, as China has made it clear it considers the matter closed.

Activists hope to focus attention on Mr. Celil in the lead-up to the Summer Olympics in Beijing. Supporters have organized on-line groups and demonstrations in Canadian cities.

The next such rally is scheduled to take place on Sunday in front of the Chinese consulate in Toronto.

Written by: OMARL EL AKKAD
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