A Canadian citizen who fled persecution in China over a decade ago has been extradited by Uzbekistan back to China, where he may now face a death sentence.
Huseyincan Celil, a 37-year-old Burlington man and a father of six, was wanted by Chinese authorities for his work on behalf of the Muslim Uighur minority of Xinjiang province. He fled China in 1994 after being imprisoned and tortured for his human rights work, and was later sentenced to death in absentia by Chinese authorities for founding a political party to advocate for Uighur rights. In 2001, he moved to Canada as a refugee and subsequently gained citizenship.
In March, Celil was arrested by Uzbekistan authorities while visiting in-laws with his wife and three children. Canadian officials had demanded that he be returned to Canada and arranged consular visits with him. But after disappearing about two weeks ago, foreign affairs learned from Uzbek officials that Celil had been extradited to China. Foreign Affairs informed Celil’s family about the extradition on Monday.
Foreign Affairs spokesperson Kim Girtel says the department is unaware of Celil’s current whereabouts, and that the Chinese authorities have not yet confirmed that they have Celil. Once confirmed, she says, Canada will demand a consular visit for him.
Meanwhile, Jason Kenney, parliamentary secretary to the prime minister, has said he would be willing to personally make the trip to China to help secure Celil’s release. “I will do anything to help and I know the prime minister will support that,” he told the Hamilton Spectator. Uzbekistan reportedly told foreign affairs that Chinese authorities guaranteed they would not subject Celil to capital punishment. Clive Ansley, a Victoria-based lawyer and expert on the Chinese legal system, says he doubts China will honour such a promise.
“I certainly wouldn’t put much faith in it myself. The Beijing government has a history of violating almost every international treaty they’ve ever signed, and these treaties certainly [weigh more heavily] in law than diplomatic promises,” he says. Ansley also notes that capital punishment isn’t the only way to have someone killed in the Chinese system.
“China routinely has people murdered in their prison system. They turn criminal inmates on people they want to get rid of. I would hope the Canadian government would intervene in any way it could on behalf of a Canadian Citizen.”
The region of Xinjiang was occupied by the Chinese Communist Party when it took power in 1949, and was incorporated into China as a province in 1956. According to groups like Amnesty International, its ethnic population of Uighur Muslims has been subjected to discrimination by China’s majority Han ethnicity, and the region’s traditional culture and language have been suppressed by the communist regime. Like in Tibet, some Uighurs continue to call for independence from China, resulting in ongoing tensions in the region.
Celil has been outspoken in his opposition to repression by Chinese authorities, and has demanded freedom from what he has labelled the colonial imperialism of the Chinese government.
The communist regime accuses him of being involved in a terrorist plot in 2000, but Amnesty International spokesperson Elizabeth Berton-Hunter says those charges can’t be verified, and notes that Celil was in Turkey at the time.