Curious case of Canuck abroad
By PETER WORTHINGTON
In a front page story this week, the Globe and Mail recounted how a Canadian citizen, Hussein Celil, had been arrested in Uzbekistan and deported to China.
On the surface, it seems yet another case of a Canadian in trouble overseas being abandoned by his government.
Yet there are wrinkles that make this story different from the outrage that happened to Bill Sampson -- framed in 2001 for murder in Saudi Arabia and sentenced to death, with the Canadian government preferring to believe Saudi protestations of their decency rather than the visual evidence of Sampson's torture.
Nor is Celil's case similar to that of Montreal photographer Zahra Kazemi, who in 2003 was raped and murdered by Iranian police who didn't realize she had a Canadian as well as an Iranian passport.
Celil's case is more curious. In 1994 he was arrested in China for activities on behalf of the Uighur people (one of China's 56 nationalities) and was sentenced to death in absentia after he escaped to Turkey .
In Turkey he applied for (and got) admission to Canada in 2001 as a refugee. He settled in Burlington with his wife and began siring children -- four, at this count.
Celil is Muslim and was an imam at the Burlington mosque. In fact, his ardent religious activism is what got him into trouble in China.
What are the Uighurs, you might ask? There are up to 10 million of them world-wide, most of them converts to Islam, and most of them living in Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Mongolia. About a million live in China's northwestern province of Xinjiang.
China views the Uighur independence movement as terrorism. Thus their antipathy to Celil.
The question begs: Wotinell was Celil doing in Uzbekistan, apart from visiting his wife's relatives?
Is the guy nuts -- a refugee, given sanctuary by a generous Canadian government going back into where trouble awaits while his family exists on welfare?
Four sons since 2001 are evidence that he's spent some time in Burlington, but clearly he was up to something questionable in Uzbekistan (hardly a Jeffersonian democracy).
Since he has dual Chinese and Canadian citizenship, he surely should have known the chance he was taking.
The Uighurs have a tortured history. Their region was known as Eastern Turkestan before being conquered by China's Manchu armies in 1921.
The Soviet Union pushed communism on the Uighurs, who also subscribed to Islam. The men take multiple wives (contrary to Chinese law) and males are considered adults at 12, girls at 9.
Although Uighurs are not "terrorists" by our definition, they are a nuisance to the Chinese, and Hussein Celil seems more than an Islamic pacifist doing his bit in Central Asia to promote world peace.
At Guantanamo Bay, some 22 of the original 700 al-Qaida suspects were Uighurs -- most of whom have since been released as they have no apparent argument with America.
The question raised by the Celil and other cases, is why should Canada give refuge to those with no allegiance to Canada who are bent on clandestine activities in other countries?
Celil's wife survives on welfare and gripes Canada is lax in helping her man, who has landed in the chow mein when he should have known better.
Technically he's a Canadian citizen -- but also a Chinese citizen. Whatever he was doing in China (and in Uzbekistan) might have been legal in Canada but was not in those countries, which have a lousy record for human rights.
Celil may not be a terrorist, as the Chinese claim, but it's hard to see why Canada should feel responsible for this guy whose allegiance is elsewhere.