Sat, Apr 21, 2007 - Page 5 News List

Canada blasts China over Uighur refugee's sentence

`SOURED RELATIONS' The Canadian foreign minister said his country would `stand tall' to protect the human rights of one of its citizens who was jailed for separatism

AFP , OTTAWA

Canada blasted China on Thursday for sentencing a Canadian citizen to life in prison on terrorism and separatism charges in a closed trial, saying the verdict had soured relations between the two countries.

Huseyin Celil, 37, a Chinese-born ethnic Uighur, was sentenced to life in prison for "the crime of splitting the motherland" and involvement in terrorism, China's foreign ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao (劉建超) said.

Celil was extradited from Uzbekistan to China during a trip in May last year where he vanished into Chinese custody. Canadian diplomats tried to gain access to him in Uzbekistan and are trying to gain access to him in China.

Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay told reporters: "The stakes are very high for Mr Celil and certainly this case has had a spillover impact on Canada's relationship with China."

In a statement, he said Ottawa "remains gravely concerned about allegations that Mr Celil has been mistreated while in Chinese custody and possibly subjected to torture," accusing Beijing of a possible "serious breach" of the UN convention against torture.

The verdict comes ahead of a visit to China later this month by MacKay, during which he said he would raise the issue.

"It's been raised at the highest levels including the president of China and I certainly intend to pursue it when I arrive in China next week," he said outside Parliament. "We don't intend to let this case go."

"When it comes to human rights, when it comes to the rights of a Canadian citizen, we will stand tall for that citizen," he said.

MacKay also chided Beijing for "persistently refusing to respond adequately to our concerns with respect to due process" for Celil and for failing to grant Canadian diplomats access to him "in spite of repeated requests."

Dual citizens

"As we believe that China did not live up to the spirit of the 1999 Canada-China consular agreement in this case, we will be conducting a review of this agreement to determine whether it is, in fact, an effective means of safeguarding Chinese-Canadian dual citizens traveling on Canadian passports," he said.

The minister said he registered his "deep disappointment" with the Chinese charge d'affaires in Ottawa and told Celil's wife the Canadian government would continue to "pursue justice" for him.

"We strongly urge the Chinese authorities to respect their commitment to provide Canadian officials with information about Mr Celil and to ensure that he is accorded due process," MacKay said.

Earlier, Liu had said: "The case of Huseyin Celil is an internal affair and Canada has no right to interfere."

The diplomatic row is the latest in a series of bilateral irritants that have included talks between a senior Canadian official and the Dalai Lama, accusations that China is spying on Canadian corporations, Canada's failure to deport a Chinese fugitive who allegedly steered a multibillion-dollar smuggling ring as well as stalled trade negotiations.

Celil fled China a decade ago and arrived in Canada in 2001 as a refugee and became a Canadian citizen. He was arrested in Tashkent on March 27 last year while trying to renew a visitor's visa in the Uzbek capital.

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