Thursday, August 31, 2006

Curious case of Canuck abroad

Curious case of Canuck abroad


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.

Article Source


Alim Seytoff said...

Letter to the Editor

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Re: “Curious Case of Canuck Abroad; Uighur Activist’s Allegiance Appears to be Elsewhere” (Thursday, August 31, 2006) by Peter Worthington

Dear Editor:

Today’s piece by Peter Worthington about why the Canadian government should even care about the life of Canadian citizen Huseyin Celil is quite disturbing. Worthington argues that it is hard to see why the government should “feel responsible” for Mr. Celil since his “allegiance appears to be elsewhere.” In his article he implies, without any evidence, that Mr. Celil’s allegiance is not with Canada. His sweeping generalizations and quick jump to conclusions set a dangerous precedent with regard to the safety and release of any Canadian citizen held in an authoritarian country like China, if such a person’s allegiance is somehow questionable. Today, Canadian citizen Huseyin Celil’s life is at stake. And all Worthington is saying in his “curious” article is, "Why should Canada care about him?"

Good question! But the better question to ask is, why shouldn’t Canada care about Mr. Celil being held by China? Canada is a constitutional democracy. The Canadian government has a constitutional duty to protect its citizens when they are held abroad without clear justification. If a government does not care about the welfare of its citizens held abroad, then how can it expect its citizens to have allegiance to it? The Canadian government should care deeply when a despotic country like China holds Mr. Celil by openly violating international law and denying consular access to Canadian officials for months.

But according to Worthington, Mr. Celil’s allegiance is not to Canada, because “he was up to something questionable in Uzbekistan...” He asks “why should Canada give refuge to those with no allegiance to Canada who are bent on clandestine activities in other countries?” Mr. Celil traveled to Uzbekistan with his wife to visit her parents. He did not get involved in anything questionable or take part in any clandestine activities there. He only believed that as a Canadian citizen, it was safe for him to travel to Uzbekistan. His only mistake was that he didn’t know that China could disregard all international laws under the sun when it came to hunting down and punishing Uyghur dissidents who have peacefully voiced their opposition to the half century-long repressive Chinese rule in their homeland of East Turkistan (aka: Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region).

Maybe for Worthington, China is right in persecuting the Uyghur people, and those Uyghurs who oppose such persecution are wrong and do not even deserve protection even after they become citizens of democratic states like Canada, especially when their life is at stake. Maybe the life and legitimately-acquired citizenship of Mr. Celil, as a Muslim imam and a non-native born Canadian, are not equal in worth to those of Worthington. Maybe Mr. Celil’s fault was that he didn’t prove his allegiance to Canada by forgetting the persecution of his people by the Chinese government, and by continuing to care about their lack of freedom. Maybe his fault was that he didn’t prove his allegiance by cutting all ties to his parents, family, relatives, friends, religion, culture, language, tradition and homeland. Absent all of these "faults", Worthington may then be satisfied of Mr. Celil's allegiance to Canada. The factual mistakes of his piece aside, Worthington simply does not have an accurate understanding of why a man like Mr. Celil spent prison time in China for his peaceful religious activity, and then fled to Turkey, was sentenced to death in absentia for a crime that took place in a country in which he was not present, and finally came to Canada, a country that gave him hope and freedom.

In fact, by providing refuge and care and carrying out its duties toward its citizens, especially in cases like those of Mr. Celil, the Canadian government will earn the respect and praise of not only those Uyghurs who are living in Canada, but all immigrants who came to your great country. They will then feel a strong allegiance to the country that gave them refuge, care, and protection when their life was at stake in those despotic countries from which they fled. The greatness of a democratic country like Canada lies not in its expectation of absolute allegiance from its immigrant population, which is unrealistic, but its unequivocal embrace of them all without regard to their race, religion or national origin. For that is what makes Canada, as well as the United States, a powerful multicultural and multi-ethnic country.

Alim A. Seytoff

General Secretary

Uyghur American Association

1700 Pennsylvania Ave., NW

Suite 400

Washington, DC 20006

Phone: 202-321-2388

Fax: 202-349-1491

Prof. Charles Burton said...

Re: Curious Case of Canuck Abroad August 31

Mr. Worthington completely misses the point of the Celil case. Mr. Celil does not, as Worthington asserts, enjoy "dual Chinese and Canadian citizenship." Under China's Nationality Law, dual nationality is not allowed. Chinese citizenship is automatically voided by the acquisition of citizenship of another country. Whether Mr. Celil is guilty of any crimes or not is beside the point. Many Canadians have been convicted of offences in China, most of them connected to drugs or financial fraud, and languish in Chinese prisons. The Canadian Government does not maintain the position that Canadians can violate the laws of China with impunity. But by the Vienna Convention within 48 hours of arrest of a foreign national, the embassy must be informed, information about the basis for the arrest given, access to the accused by the consular officials arranged, and notice of the trial be given so that the accused's embassy can observe the proceedings and protest any miscarriage of justice. There is no question that Mr. Celil is as Canadian as any other Canadian. If these fundamental rights of his Canadian citizenship are denied Mr. Celil, then they can be denied any other Canadian. That is why the imperative principle of Canadian consular access to Huseyincan Celil is so critical.

The rest of Worthington's misinformed racist twaddle about the Celil family and Uyghurs in general is not worthy of response, but his lack of respect for the sanctity of our Canadian citizenship and passport is really beyond the pale.

Charles Burton
St. Catharines

Ashifa Kassam said...

Re: “Curious Case of Canuck Abroad; Uighur Activist’s Allegiance Appears to be Elsewhere,” Aug. 31.

Worthington’s article is heartbreaking; both for its violation of journalistic integrity and for its gross misrepresentations of the Uighur people. I recently returned from a visit to China, where I spent my time documenting and reporting the lives of Uighur Muslims and would like to correct the many mistakes Worthington made in his article.

The last Chinese government census counted the population of Uighur Muslims in China at 9 million. They are the indigenous majority of the northwest Xinjiang region of China and are set apart from other nationalities in China by their Central Asian heritage, their distinct Uyghur language and their devotion to Islam.

Contrary to being a “nuisance to the Chinese” as Worthington asserts, human rights organizations around the world ranging from Amnesty International to the United Nations Human Rights Commission have condemned the Chinese government for their continuous human rights abuses against the Uighurs community.

The Uighurs are a community that is being persecuted from every angle possible. Their daily lives are subject to continuous intrusions, as the People’s Republic of China controls where religious gatherings may be held, who can be a cleric and what version of the Koran may be used. Fasting is prohibited, in spite of being mandatory for Muslims during the holy month of Ramadan. Communist party members and anyone under the age of 18 are forbidden from participating in any religious activity. In order to enforce these rules, all mosques in the region are under constant surveillance by government officials.

Many prominent Uighur writers and poets are in jail. Despite the Uighurs being the majority in the region, the Chinese government recently changed laws to force all schools in the region to teach students in Mandarin rather than in Uighur.

These are simply a few examples of the rampant abuse the Uighur community in China suffers through. Hussein Celil, the Canadian citizen who has been sentenced to death China, was simply sticking up for his community in peril. His right to do so is protected by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which is a set of human rights guaranteed to the citizens of all United Nation member countries. China is a member of the UN and this fact guarantees Celil the right to organize the Uighur people to demand their rights through non-violent means.

Worthington’s reference to Celil’s actions as “clandestine” is just plain wrong. The UN Declaration of Human Rights makes Celil’s actions legal in China. If he had committed a crime and was being rightfully sentenced for it, China would not be avoiding talks with the Canadian government regarding Celil’s case.

Wotherington’s twisted journalism is an insult to Celil, his family and the millions of Uighurs who are terrorized daily by the Chinese government. The Uighurs in China remain the only people in the world who continue to be executed on political charges by the Chinese government; a reality that is perhaps perpetuated by misrepresentations like those of Worthington.

Ashifa Kassam
Calgary, Alberta