A Canadian activist jailed in China for alleged terrorist links was sentenced to life in prison yesterday, the Xinhua news agency said, in a ruling that could ratchet up political tensions between the countries.
Huseyin Celil was sentenced for "taking part in terrorist activities and plotting to split the country," Xinhua said. The brief report did not give any other details.
Celil, a member of the Uighur minority group from Xinjiang, was born and raised in China and drew the attention of authorities by campaigning for the rights of his people.
He was arrested in China and tortured, but escaped from prison in 2000 and fled to Uzbekistan and Turkey before reaching Canada, where he was given citizenship.
He was arrested in Uzbekistan in March last year while visiting his wife's relatives, and extradited to China in June.
Point of contention
His extradition has been a point of contention between Canada and China, which does not recognize Celil's Canadian citizenship and says his case is not subject to consular agreements.
Ottawa has angered Chinese officials by aggressively lobbying for his release, as did Canada's granting of honorary citizenship to the exiled Tibetan leader, the Dalai Lama, one of the figures most reviled by the Beijing leadership.
In February, tensions grew stronger after Celil made a court appearance at the Urumqi Intermediate People's Court in Xinjiang's capital without a Canadian diplomat present -- a violation of his rights as a Canadian citizen.
"This is a great blow to Mr. Celil and his family members," said a spokesperson at the Canadian embassy in Beijing, who spoke yesterday on condition of anonymity according to protocol.
"Canada remains very concerned that the Chinese government has prevented us from meeting Mr. Celil," the spokesperson said. "We would urge the Chinese authorities to grant embassy officials access to Mr. Celil."
A man who answered the telephone at the Urumqi court said he could not confirm the sentence.
The charges against Celil have never been made clear, but the Xinhua report said he was a "prominent member of the `East Turkestan' terrorist organization."
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