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Don’t forget Celil in Chinese jail, supporters of Canadian Uyghur lawyer say

OTTAWA – Supporters of a Canadian imprisoned in China for a decade and a half want the next federal government to use the Beijing 2022 Olympics as a bargaining chip to bring him home.

And Huseyin Celil supporters say they want the deal to be a package that also wins the freedom of two other prominent Canadian prisoners – Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor.

Kovrig and Spavor recently took a grim 1,000-day milestone in Chinese prisons in what is seen by Canada and its Western allies as retaliation for the RCMP’s arrest of Chinese high-tech scion Meng Wanzhou on a warrant. American extradition in December 2018.

But Celil’s supporters also don’t want Canadians to forget about him – or the fact that unlike Kovrig and Spavor, he has yet to be allowed a single visit from Canadian diplomats since his arrest in 2006 – and call on anyone who wins Monday’s federal election appoint a special envoy to win his freedom.

Canadian consular visits have been banned because China does not recognize Celil’s dual Canadian citizenship, obtained in 2005, a year before he was arrested in Uzbekistan by the Chinese after his long-standing human rights advocacy campaign. its Uyghur Muslim ethnic minority.

“I hope that with the 2022 Olympics being held in China, this is another time where there is another opportunity to get Celil out and back, that it is part of a package. that’s done with both Michaels or a stand-alone, ”Celil’s attorney, Chris MacLeod, said in an interview Tuesday.

“Obviously I want all three.”

With the opening of the Winter Games in February, calls to boycott Chinese games or cancel distribution plans are mounting amid a chorus of criticism over Beijing’s treatment of Uyghurs, as well as its crackdown on Hong Kong, Tibet and Taiwan.

Celil’s family got caught up in this geopolitical whirlwind as they saw his periodic visits to him in prison cut short about five years ago. It was at this point that Beijing began its crackdown on Muslim Uyghurs in China’s Xinjiang province, assembling them in prison camps, citing the need to fight terrorism.

China’s treatment of Uyghurs has sparked global condemnation and allegations of genocide, accusations China vehemently denies.

The result for Celil’s family and supporters is that they are no longer sure he is still alive as all contact with his family in China has been cut, MacLeod said.

“I have not had any communication with the family since the opening of the concentration camps in China,” Celil’s wife Kamila said in an interview from southern Ontario where she lives with her 16-year-old son. – a child that her husband has never met.

Kamila Celil said the current Liberal government had not done enough to secure her husband’s release and that she would like more to be done.

MacLeod agrees, saying the current government deserves a “terrible mark” for its advocacy on Celil’s behalf. He said ministers in Stephen Harper’s former Conservative government were able to commute Celil’s original death sentence to life in prison.

Alex Neve, the former Canadian secretary general of Amnesty International, said successive Canadian politicians had failed Celil and his family.

“In 15 years of unjust imprisonment and serious human rights violations, two prime ministers and 10 foreign ministers have had the opportunity and the responsibility to secure the release of Huseyin Celil from his detention in China and his return to his family in Canada, ”Neve said in a statement to The Canadian Press.

“There have been a lot of reassuring words, but little sustained, high-level effort from the government to bring him home. The next government must turn the tide. Seeking freedom for Huseyin in any way possible must become one. top priority. “

Ahead of last week’s televised federal leaders’ debate, Neve joined a coalition of dozens of human rights defenders, lawyers and many others to send an open letter to the top five party leaders. in order to rekindle their interest in Celil’s case.

While they said they supported the Canadian government’s efforts on behalf of Kovrig and Spavor, they were “gravely concerned about Canada’s foreign policy and its choice to prioritize some Canadians over others.” , they said in their letter.

“Canada actively built a coalition to support the two Michael’s, but left Huseyin Celil behind. We are very disturbed to see him treated like a second-class citizen and deprived of his rights.

Foreign policy has not featured prominently in French or English language debates. Kovrig and Spavor deserved a passing mention in the English debate.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on September 15, 2021.


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