Friday, June 15, 2007

Beijing is always watching

Chinese-Canadians say spies have been monitoring and intimidating them

CHARLIE GILLIS | May 14, 2007

For Mehmet Tohti, it was the Canadian equivalent of the midnight knock on the door. The phone rang in his Mississauga apartment shortly before bedtime, and on the other end of the line was his mother Turmisa, who lives in the northern Chinese city of Karghilik. The sound of her voice was itself a surprise: Tohti, a Uyghur activist who escaped China in the late 1980s, hadn't seen his mother in 16 years, and the two had rarely spoken by phone. But they hardly had time to exchange greetings before she handed the receiver to a man who -- dispensing with all pleasantries, himself -- began scolding Tohti about his political activities.

The official, who identified himself only as a member of China's infamous Overseas Affairs Commission, had a laundry list of instructions. Tohti was to cease efforts to draw sympathy in Canada to the Uyghurs -- the oppressed, largely Muslim population of Xinjiang province that has become a thorn in Beijing's side; he was to stop spreading allegations of cultural genocide against the People's Republic; most importantly, he was not to attend an upcoming conference in Germany where Uyghur groups from around the world planned to form an international congress. "We have your mother here, and your brother, too," he added cryptically, noting that police had driven the pair some 260 km to a regional police headquarters in Kashgar to help deliver Beijing's message. "We can do whatever we want."

Indeed. In the three years since that night, the 43-year-old Tohti has had enough brushes with China's long-armed security apparatus to conclude Beijing's agents are still doing much as they please -- not just in China, but in Canada, too. The incidents have ranged from more such phone calls, he says, to one unsettling encounter last October, in which three Chinese men spent a night watching his suburban home through the windows of a black SUV. The men hung around until about 1:30 a.m., says Tohti, and for days afterward he couldn't sleep. After complaining about the incident to the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, as well as the Department of Foreign Affairs, he moved into a condominium with 24-hour surveillance. "I no longer feel secure in Canada," he told federal officials.

He's not alone. The Taiwanese community, Tibetan Canadians and Falun Gong practitioners have all reported incidents of spying or intimidation to federal authorities in the past five years. And while Ottawa has reportedly issued stern warnings to the Chinese embassy, nothing seems to work. With the 2008 Summer Games in the offing, some critics believe Beijing is actually ramping up covert activities against Canadian-based dissident groups to help mute criticism of its human rights record during the Olympics.

Those anxieties rose further in March when Jiyan Zhang, an accountant who worked at the embassy and the wife of a Chinese diplomat, told reporters that staff there had formed a special unit to collect information on groups like the Uyghurs, Tibetans and Falun Gong. Zhang, herself a practitioner of Falun Gong, also smuggled out a document suggesting that the embassy had mobilized a letter-writing campaign to the CRTC in hopes of scuttling the licence application of a Chinese-language TV station it considered anti-Communist. Her husband has been sent home to China in disgrace, but Zhang, who's now claimed refugee status, has kept up her offensive. "I just hope to show that the Chinese embassy was doing bad things," she told the Ottawa Citizen. "I wanted to reveal their lies."

Not everyone, however, is feeling so brave when it comes to tweaking Beijing. Several Chinese expatriates who last week recounted harrowing tales of threats and intimidation asked not to be identified in Maclean's for fear of reprisals against relatives they left behind. Others worried about their own safety -- though there are no known incidents of violence by Beijing's agents on Canadian soil. Nearly all agreed that Canadians need to be better informed about the espionage going on inside their own borders.

Uyghurs, in particular, have been feeling vulnerable in recent months. The surprise arrest of Huseyin Celil, the Burlington, Ont., imam who was sentenced to life in a Chinese prison last month, reminded many how closely Beijing follows their movements. Friends of Celil point out that the 37-year-old participated in several Uyghur demonstrations in front of the Chinese consulate in Toronto, where consular staff photographed or videotaped him each time. Then, in June 2006, he was arrested at China's behest during a visit with his in-laws in Uzbekistan -- a capture so smoothly executed that Celil's advocates believe it must have orginated on Canadian soil. "I've maintained all along that the reason Huseyin came on the radar of the Chinese authorities was because of activities here," says Chris MacLeod, Celil's Canadian lawyer. "Obviously, they monitored him and they knew he was travelling. They certainly don't want other Uyghurs speaking publicly about the cause. I guess this is their way of sending a message."

Since then, members of the 450-strong Uyghur community have meditated nervously on their own stories of intrigue -- some of them as obvious as the surveillance of Celil, some of them much more subtle. Sixty-five-year-old Salim (not his real name) recalls a September 2004 phone call from the embassy's visa office inviting him to Ottawa to celebrate the 55th anniversary of the Communist revolution. None of his fellow Uyghurs received the same call, he says, and given his family's long history of defiance toward Beijing, it was easy to impute sinister motives. "They put my son in prison for life," says Salim, whom fellow Uyghurs regard as an elder statesman of sorts. "They've had an arrest warrant out for me since 1997. Why would I want to celebrate anything to do with China?"

Salim's mind raced. Did they plan to arrest him during a party on embassy property? Would they poison him? He now suspects Chinese officials merely hoped to use his presence at the party to blunt criticism they're prejudiced toward Uyghurs. In any case, they had quite cleverly demonstrated they knew where he lived, and they didn't seem to hear his polite refusals: the official called him back three times and a few days later a written copy of the invitation appeared in his mailbox. "I don't mind telling you I was afraid," says Salim.

Efforts to silence those who use the Internet to mobilize dissent against China have been equally crafty, and effective. Kayum Masimov, a Montreal-based organizer for the Uyghur Association of Canada, began receiving emails in 2004 that were so ingeniously disguised as messages from other Uyghurs in Canada that at first he never suspected trouble. Then, after a friend opened an attachment to one, Masimov's hard drive quickly filled with digital dreck. "I've already lost one laptop over this," says the 33-year-old. "Now, if I get a message from someone I know, I phone and ask if they sent it." Proving a connection to the embassy here is probably impossible, Masimov concedes, but he's not the only one who's been hit.

The tactic is known as a "virus assault," and it's become a daily hazard for Chinese dissident groups working in Canada. The messages feature content and senders too unique to have come from garden-variety troublemakers, and are so disruptive to communication that some groups now speak only in person, or by phone. Dermod Travis, executive director of the Montreal-based Canada Tibet Committee, submitted two infected emails his group received last fall to a private company for analysis, and has since been advised that the messages originated in China. The emails were tailored to look as though they were sent by Tibetan activists, he says; one even contained bogus registration forms for an upcoming international conference. The question is how the saboteurs obtained his group's address list. "This goes beyond the generic stuff you see in standard viruses," says Travis. "It would require some effort on the part of someone here in Canada."

All this said, it has taken Canada's spy agency an uncommonly long time to point a finger at Beijing, or any other meddlesome government. For years, CSIS has stuck to its policy of not naming countries it investigates, while victims who report incidents often never hear back from the agents who take down their stories. As late as last week, spokeswoman Barb Campion was sticking to the script, saying CSIS does investigate reports of foreign interference but avoiding specific mention of China. (As for leaving complainants hanging, Campion cited operational reasons: "Individuals come to us all the time, but much of what we find is going to be classified and we're not going to be able to share it.")

CSIS director Jim Judd was a bit more forthcoming before a Senate committee on Monday, acknowledging that Chinese operatives account for nearly half the service's domestic counter-intelligence work. "It's surprising, sometimes, the number of hyperactive tourists we get here and where they come from," he said, referring to the use of visitors as spies. But he provided little detail about the breadth and scope of China's activities, and even less in the way of reassurance. "As one of my foreign counterparts said once, in this business you spend most of your time worrying about what you don't know," he said. "That would certainly apply here as well."

The disclosure sent a buzz across Parliament Hill -- and presumably through the Chinese embassy (repeated calls by Maclean's to the mission went unanswered, as did calls last week to Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay). But to those paying close attention, Judd was merely corroborating numerous anecdotal reports of Beijing stretching its tentacles throughout Canada's expatriate Chinese community. In June 2005, for instance, a former Chinese security official who sought asylum in Australia alleged that the Chinese government had roughly 1,000 spies operating in this country -- many of them monitoring Chinese students and scientists who are here on visas. Less than a month later, Guangsheng Han, a 52-year-old former security official, came forward in Ottawa to say Beijing was cultivating informants here to keep watch on dissidents. "They're very interested in what happens in the ethnic Chinese community in Canada," he told Canadian Press. "They pay a lot of attention."

Uyghur activists, meanwhile, proudly wield a 1996 directive leaked last year from the Chinese Communist Party, which appears to show that China's strategy of interference and infiltration is at least 10 years old. The memo, known as Document No. 7, instructs officials in foreign missions to "establish home bases in the regions or cities with high Chinese or overseas Chinese populations" and to "collect information on related developments." "Be especially vigilant against and prevent by all means the outside separatist forces from making the [Uyghur] problem international," it says.

None of this should come as a surprise to those who follow China on the world stage, says Yuen Pau Woo, president of the Vancouver-based Asia Pacific Foundation. "All countries have an interest in monitoring the activities of overseas nationals," he notes, "as well as activities that affect the homeland." And while the relatively large size of Canada's 1.6-million strong Chinese community make it an attractive espionage target, it is by no means unique in having Chinese spies on its soil. The good news, says Woo, is that China is quickly learning the value of charm and spin. "They're becoming more sophisticated," he says. "They're starting to use the tools of soft power."

Perhaps. But those who feel the eyes of Beijing upon them today say that China has a long way to go. The case of Celil is an extreme example of how determined Communist authorities are to silence their critics, they note, and while the kinds of tactics they appear to have at their disposal are by no means an option for Ottawa, nipping them in the bud will almost certainly require equal resolve. The first step, of course, is admitting we have a problem.

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Ms. Rabiya Kadeer with Canadian Prime Minister

Ms. Rabiya Kadeer with Canadian Prime Minister

President of World Uyghur Congress Ms. Rabiya Kadeer has met with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper in the Canadian Parliament in Ottawa on December 12th, 2006.
Ms. Kadeer has visited Canada from December 8 to 14 to raise awareness of the present
plight of the Uyghur people and to get support for the release of Uyghur Canadian
Huseyin Celil who is still in Chinese custody. Ms. Kadeer has been welcomed by all levels of Canadian Government and Parliament.

Celil granted access to lawyer in jail after Martin visit with Chinese PM

Celil granted access to lawyer in jail after Martin visit with Chinese PM


June 6, 2007

Jailed Canadian activist Huseyin Celil has finally been allowed to meet with his lawyer, more than a month after a Chinese court sentenced him to life in prison for terrorism-related offences.

Mr. Celil met with his hired Chinese lawyer last Thursday and Friday, according to the Uyghur Canadian Association. Each meeting lasted about two hours, marking a dramatic shift in the amount of access China allows to Mr. Celil.

Previously, neither his Chinese lawyer nor Canadian embassy officials were allowed to meet the prisoner.

Indeed, embassy officials were barred from entering the courtroom when his sentence was handed down in April.

Mr. Celil was represented by another court-appointed lawyer during his trial. His current lawyer was hired by relatives and supporters to work on his appeal.

Mehmet Tohti, head of the Uyghur Canadian Association, said Mr. Celil's Chinese lawyer was given assurances after his first two meetings that he would be granted consistent access to his client.

That's a sharp change from a little more than a month ago, when Mr. Celil's lawyer asked the jailed Canadian's family to deny his involvement in the case, for fear of potential retribution from the Chinese authorities.

Last month, former prime minister Paul Martin visited China to attend the African Development Bank's annual meeting. He serves as an adviser to the organization.

During his time in the country, Mr. Martin met with Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao for 35 minutes, where he raised Mr. Celil's case and repeated the Conservative government's demand that the imprisoned Canadian be given consular access. Yesterday, Mr. Tohti said the newly relaxed restrictions on Mr. Celil's access to lawyers is likely a sign that Mr. Martin's meeting and the current government's tough stand on the issue are working.

According to Mr. Tohti, the meetings between Mr. Celil and his lawyer included two other people: a translator and a representative of China's secret police.

Mr. Celil looked to be in good health, Mr. Tohti said, but it was unclear how honest he was able to be about certain topics, due to the police representative at the meeting.

Mr. Celil is an ethnic Uyghur, a Muslim minority group that resides primarily in the Xinjiang region of northwest China.

He was arrested in Uzbekistan and handed over to China more than a year ago. He was travelling on a Canadian passport at the time of his arrest.

Chinese authorities have labelled Mr. Celil a terrorist, and charged him with engaging in violent separatist activities.

His case has strained relations between China and Ottawa, as government officials in Canada continued to protest against his detention without consular access. Human-rights groups have also expressed concerns that Mr. Celil has been tortured during his time in Chinese custody.

Supporters seeking new lawyer for Celil

Supporters seeking new lawyer for Celil


Supporters of Huseyin Celil, a Canadian citizen detained in China, say that his court-appointed lawyer is inadequate and that Canada's Department of Foreign Affairs has recommended they obtain independent legal advice there.

Mr. Celil, who was born in China but came to Canada as a refugee in 2001, was detained in Uzbekistan last March while travelling with his family on Canadian passports. Last summer, Uzbekistan deported him to China, where he faces multiple terrorism-related charges. Despite his Canadian citizenship, Mr. Celil has so far been denied access to Canadian consulate officials or lawyers.

Mr. Celil is a member of the Uighur people, a Muslim minority group whose calls for greater independence have angered officials in Beijing. Chinese officials have for years accused myriad Uighurs of terrorism -- one of Mr. Celil's childhood acquaintances was executed in China earlier this month -- but members of the Uighur community abroad say any act of defiance or separatism easily falls under the Chinese definition of terrorism.

Mehmet Tohti, the president of the Uighur Canadian Association, sent an e-mail to supporters yesterday asking for donations to help raise the $12,000 he estimates it will cost to hire an independent lawyer in China.
Print Edition - Section Front

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The Globe and Mail

Mr. Tohti said he is unsure a new lawyer will be of much use to Mr. Celil. "The political powers in Beijing have already made a decision," he said of Mr. Celil's legal fate.

But a new lawyer might at least be able to prepare and present some documents in Mr. Celil's defence, something it doesn't appear his current lawyer has been able to do, Mr. Tohti said.

Mr. Tohti spoke with Mr. Celil's court-appointed lawyer over the weekend, he said. The lawyer told him he had met with Canadian officials, but otherwise there was little progress.

"He seemed a little bit scared," Mr. Tohti said of the lawyer.

In the meantime, Mr. Celil's immediate fate remains unclear. The first and last time he was seen in a public setting since his detention last March was early this month, when he appeared in a Chinese courtroom to hear charges against him.

While the practice of obtaining an independent lawyer is relatively straightforward in Canada, it is a far more unorthodox process in China, said Alex Neve, Canadian director of Amnesty International. Mr. Neve has been closely working on Mr. Celil's case since early in his detention.

Chinese police tortured activist, family says

Chinese police tortured activist, family says
Ottawa dispatches diplomats to trial

From Wednesday's Globe and Mail

OTTAWA, TORONTO — A Canadian imprisoned in China told a courtroom he was tortured last year by Chinese secret police, including being starved, constantly questioned and threatened with being buried alive and "disappeared," relatives of Huseyin Celil say.

But no Canadian diplomat was in the room during Mr. Celil's rare appearance -- a fact that triggered a flurry of activity yesterday from the Conservative government.

Ottawa said that Canadian diplomats have been dispatched to the province where Mr. Celil is being detained and are under orders to remain on site indefinitely.

Mr. Celil, a former mosque leader in Hamilton, was detained in March while visiting his wife's family in Uzbekistan. Under an agreement between the two countries, Uzbekistan sent him to China, where he has been detained for the past eight months.

The 38-year-old is a member of the Uyghur minority in northwest China. The Uyghur people's demand for autonomy has long angered Beijing, which has levelled terrorism accusations against many members of the Muslim minority group.
Mr. Celil's allegations of torture add a new element to what has become one of the highest profile consular cases of Stephen Harper's time as Prime Minister.

Mr. Celil was at the centre of a major diplomatic row last year between Ottawa and Beijing. En route to meet with Asia-Pacific leaders in Vietnam last November, Mr. Harper said Canada would not sell out Canada's belief in human rights for the "almighty dollar."

"When a Canadian citizen is taken from a third country and imprisoned in China, this is a serious concern to this country," Mr. Harper said at the time, a reference to Mr. Celil.

When the Canadian diplomats arrive in the provincial city of Urumqi, Mr. Celil's relatives, who have been there for the past month, will tell them what they heard in the courtroom.

Last Friday's court appearance was attended by Mr. Celil's sister and his son. They initially did not tell Mr. Celil's wife, Kamila, who lives near Toronto, about her husband's accusations of torture because they feared they were being monitored by the secret police.

Mehmet Tohti, head of the Uyghur Canadian Association, said Mr. Celil's family first called him on Saturday, the day after the six-hour court appearance. Fearing they were being monitored by Chinese police, the family said Mr. Celil was in good condition and that there was "some good debate" during his court hearing, Mr. Tohti said.
When the family called back from a public phone on Monday, they outlined allegations of torture and false confessions, Mr. Tohti said.

"They're scared to death to give this information," he said.

Canadian officials took the unusual step this week of using the news media to berate Canada's diplomats in China for failing to attend the court appearance. Officials were quoted without being named Monday, saying the Prime Minister was demanding an explanation.

A call to the Foreign Affairs Department was returned yesterday by the political office of Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay.
Mr. MacKay's spokesman, Dan Dugas, said the minister "is not happy" with the way Mr. Celil's file has been handled and that the minister personally called the Canadian embassy in Beijing on Monday and yesterday.

"The Chinese government is not co-operating with the Canadian mission in China and we aren't going to stop asking them for what's happening with Mr. Celil," said Mr. Dugas, who would not comment directly on claims the Prime Minister was angered that no official was in the court.

"I can tell you he [Mr. MacKay] is not happy either," Mr. Dugas said. "He's asking for answers. He wants to know what is being done and what the next steps are going to be."

Liberal MP Dan McTeague said the new allegations of torture being made by Mr. Celil's family are "extremely serious" and now require the Prime Minister to personally phone the Chinese President to demand answers.

"If indeed what has transpired here is correct, nothing short of a direct intervention by the Prime Minister to his counterpart [Chinese President] Hu Jintao, is going to resolve this," he said. "My overall concern remains that the Prime Minister has seen fit to heap blame on diplomats as opposed to taking up the matter himself."

Conservative MP Helena Guergis, a Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, said the Liberals' attacks in the House of Commons yesterday are hypocritical given that Liberals blamed Mr. Harper for harming relations with China when he raised the Celil case in November.

"They've been very highly critical of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, especially when he stood up for Mr. Celil, raising human rights with President Hu," she said. "The Liberals should be very embarrassed."

Ms. Celil, who has not seen or spoken with her husband in almost a year, said she is pleased Canada is sending officials to Urumqi, but would like Canada to do more to establish contact with her husband.

"I'm happy and I want to say thank you," she said, "but I think the Canadian government could do more."