Kevin Garratt, a Canadian held in China for two years on suspicion of spying, hugs his wife Julia Garratt, after being deported by Chinese authorities, in Vancouver, in this handout picture released by the Garratt family on Thursday.

The federal government has successfully extricated one Canadian from a Chinese prison. Another remains.

Amidst the euphoria surrounding Kevin Garratt’s release, the fate of Huseyin Celil, a Burlington imam who used to make his living delivering pizzas in the Hamilton region, has almost been forgotten.

Garratt, an evangelical Christian from British Columbia was in jail for two years. Celil, a 47-year-old Muslim from Ontario, has been in prison for 10.

Successive Conservative and Liberal governments have pressed for the release of both. Garratt’s case, however, was always more likely to meet with success.

First, unlike Celil, Garratt is not a dual national. Beijing does not recognize dual nationality and has consistently refused to accept Ottawa’s assertion that Chinese-borne Celil, who obtained his Canadian citizenship in 2005, is indeed Canadian.

For that reason, it has refused to let Canadian consular officials see Celil and has insisted, whenever the topic comes up between the two countries, that his case is none of Ottawa’s business.

Second, unlike Garratt, Celil has run afoul of the Chinese state before.

A member of the country’s Islamic Uighur minority, Celil was jailed in the mid-’90s for allegedly undertaking illegal political activities in his home province of Xinjiang.

Somehow, he escaped and made his way to Turkey. In 2001, Canada accepted him as a refugee. He settled in the Hamilton area.

In 2006, a year after obtaining his Canadian citizenship, Celil and his family flew to Uzbekistan to visit in-laws. That turned out to be a mistake. The Chinese had not forgotten him. He was arrested by Uzbek authorities and extradited to China.

There, he was summarily tried, convicted and sentenced to life in prison as a Uighur separatist.

Third, the Chinese are deadly serious about crushing Uighur separatism. Those who want Xinjiang, with its large Uighur minority, to become an independent country are treated as terrorists.

Indeed, some may be. In recent years, there have been terrorist attacks in Xinjiang and elsewhere in China. Beijing blames them all on Uighur separatists.

As Amnesty International has noted, the Chinese authorities don’t discriminate between peaceful separatists and those who use violence.

This all portends badly for Celil.

By comparison, the espionage charges laid against Garratt always had the look of political tit-for-tat.

In 2014, Ottawa accused Chinese hackers of spying on sensitive government agencies. A short time later, Beijing arrested Garratt for allegedly spying on China.

In fact, the Chinese may not have been enamoured of the missionary’s activities, which involved working with a charity to deliver food aid to neighbouring North Korea. North Korea is a sensitive issue in China.

But it is strangely coincidental that, after allowing Garratt and his family to live near the North Korean border unmolested for 30 years, Beijing brought down the hammer only after Canada had accused China of bad behaviour.

None of this means that Celil’s cause is hopeless. Earlier this year, his sentence was reduced from life to 20 years. At the time, analysts speculated that this move, in conjunction with similar sentence reductions for 10 other convicted Uighurs, signalled China was taking a softer line on the separatist threat.

Still, Ottawa will have to press hard if it wants Celil home.

We don’t yet know the full story of how Canada managed to get Garratt out of jail.

Ottawa did apparently send Michel Coulombe, who heads the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service, to China to convince Beijing that Garratt was not a spy.

It’s not clear why they would have believed Canada’s spymaster on this particular topic, but maybe they did.

More to the point, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has made encouraging noises about opening up Canada and its resources even more to China. That’s the kind of thing Beijing likes to hear.

Whatever the reason, Canada’s efforts worked for Garratt. Let’s hope Trudeau has enough goodies up his sleeve to spring the other wrongfully imprisoned Canadian too.

Thomas Walkom’s column appears Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
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