Wed, Dec 13, 2006 - Page 4 News List

Activists ask China to free Canadian Uighur imam

PERSECUTION The wife of Huseyin Celil pleaded for his release as human rights advocates blasted Beijing's alleged hunting of Uighur activists around the world

AFP , OTTAWA

Amnesty International and the wife of a Canadian imam jailed in China demanded his release on Monday, saying he is among thousands of ethnic Uighurs "hunted down" and wrongly prosecuted by Beijing.

Huseyin Celil, 37, a Canadian citizen of Uighur origin, was arrested and jailed in China on terrorism charges in March and has not been heard from since.

"I would like the Canadian government and people to support my husband's release. He is innocent," his wife, Kamila Telendibaeva, begged on Monday.

The couple flew to Uzbekistan in February to visit her parents. Celil was arrested a month later and deported to China, where he was reportedly sentenced to death for founding a political party to represent his minority ethnic group in Xinjiang.

"It's very sad," Telendibaeva said. "I need to get some information about my husband."

Celil's fate is an example of China allegedly "hunting down Uighur activists around the world and trying to silence their voices," said Rabiya Kadeer, president of the World Uighur Congress and an exiled Chinese dissident.

"He was hunted down for his activism even though he is no longer a Chinese citizen," she said.

Celil fled China a decade ago, arrived in Canada in 2001 as a refugee and became a Canadian citizen.

Amnesty International Canada secretary-general Alex Neve echoed his family's concerns, asking Ottawa to send a high-level envoy to plead for Celil's immediate release, or at least for him to be granted consular access.

"He is held in secret, the specifics of the charges against him are secret and his trial is secret," he said. Under these circumstances, "there is a very real concern that he is at risk of torture."

According to Neve, an "untold number" of Uighurs have faced "gross human rights violations, including unnecessary detentions, unfair political trials, torture and summary executions" because of a crackdown on Uighur nationalism.

Canadian Prime Minister Steph-en Harper had discussed Celil's detention with Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) on the sidelines of an APEC summit in Hanoi last month. Ottawa later received assurances that Celil would not be executed. But they still have not been allowed to speak with him, an official said.

"China considers him a Chinese citizen, but we continue to stress that he is a Canadian citizen," the official said.

"The Chinese took it very, very badly when the prime minister went to Hanoi a few weeks ago and pressed President Hu Jintao on human rights," said Andre Lemay, a spokesman for Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay.

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