Wednesday, September 03, 2008

The Honourable Jason Kenney

Jason Kenney hosts a private lunch for Rebiya Kadeer, President of the World Uighur Congress. He later arranged for her to come to the lobby of the House of Commons to meet with Ministers. From left to right: Secretary of State Kenney, Rebiya Kadeer, Mehmet Tohti of the Uighur Canadian Association, and Michael Mostyn of B'nai Brith Canada.
Jason Kenney hosts a private lunch for Rebiya Kadeer, President of the World Uighur Congress. He later arranged for her to come to the lobby of the House of Commons to meet with Ministers. From left to right: Secretary of State Kenney, Rebiya Kadeer, Mehmet Tohti of the Uighur Canadian Association, and Michael Mostyn of B'nai Brith Canada.
Minister Kenney supports Rebiya Kadeer
June 13, 2008

Jason Kenney hosted a private lunch for Rebiya Kadeer (President, World Uyghur Congress), and subsequently arranged for her to come to the lobby of the House of Commons to meet with other government ministers, to draw attention to the case of Huseyin Celil, a Canadian citizen imprisoned in China, as well as the persecution of the Uyghur people.

Also pictures are Mehmet Tohti of the Uighur Canadian Association, and Michael Mostyn of Bnai Brith Canada. Prime Minister Harper met with Ms. Kadeer during her first visit to Canada two years ago.


Quiet diplomacy fails Canadians

Quiet diplomacy fails Canadians

May 26, 2008

The Canadian government likes to claim that it cares about citizens who are in trouble in foreign lands.

In fact, Canada's record of assisting citizens in trouble is abysmal -- a record that stretches over the years, be it Liberal or Conservative governments.

Last week, to its credit, the Globe and Mail front paged news about a couple of Canadians in trouble, one of which the Sun has agitated about, the other of which had largely been ignored.

The first case is Huseyin Celil, a native Uighur from China who became a Canadian citizen and was arrested for no apparent reason while visiting relatives in Uzbekistan. Although he travelled on a Canadian passport, Canadian authorities were not interested in rescuing him from the Uzbeks, who were acting on behalf of Beijing, which wanted the guy back.

It was only after publicity, and after he was secretly sentenced in 2007 to life imprisonment, that the government began pressuring Beijing.

"Pressuring" is being generous. Canada seems to accept Beijing's view that Celil is a "terrorist," even while not believing it. Our national fixation on not making waves makes us diplomatic eunuchs.

Maybe Celil will be freed to return to Canada after the Olympics. Yeah, that's what they always say: Jam yesterday, jam tomorrow, never jam today.

The other case is more savage -- Mohamed Kohail, who was attending school in Saudi Arabia, is to be beheaded, along with a Jordanian, while his 17-year-old brother Sultan Kohail has been sentenced to 200 lashes.

Their crime -- the death of a member of a Saudi gang of a dozen teenagers who were chasing the three, got into a scrap, and a stone gate collapsed on a gang member. An autopsy showed no broken bones, no cuts, but internal bleeding and a weak heart.

Canada's reaction? An appeal to the Saudis for clemency. If clemency is given, the Saudis will be praised for humanitarianism.


It's mindful of the government's shameful behaviour when Bill Sampson was framed by the Saudis for murder, tortured and condemned to death. Canadian MPs who visited him chained to a hospital bed, said nothing because the believed in "quiet diplomacy."

Sampson identified his torturers, but the government preferred to believe the Saudi ambassador's insistence that Saudis don't torture. Sampson was released after 31 months, but is still angry at his treatment, still totally innocent. Meanwhile, Canada views Saudi Arabia as an ally.

Turn the clock back. In the 1970s David Somerville was arrested in Tanzania with the Canadian government doing nothing on his behalf. When he was eventually released, Mitchell Sharp, who was then external affairs minister, claimed credit and quoted Somerville's gratitude -- which was news to Somerville, who by then was a Toronto Sun reporter and refuted Sharp's claims.

Recently Brenda Martin returned to Canada after two years of awaiting trial in Mexico, always proclaiming her innocence.

Media attention persuaded government to act.

Without publicity, Canada does little for citizens in trouble.

And I refer to innocent citizens, not obvious law-breakers or criminals -- not the likes of Omar Khadr, quickly becoming a media darling because at age 15 he was with the Taliban in Afghanistan and is charged with killing an American soldier. He's now 21 and in his sixth year held at Guantanamo Bay.

Khadr gets oodles of sympathy from the likes of the CBC, but there's relative silence about Celil and Uighurs, whom the Chinese view as terrorists as they do the Dalai Lama and Tibetans.

Quiet diplomacy be damned. Ottawa should raise hell when citizens are abused.

Chinese police kill 6 suspects in Xinjiang

Chinese police kill 6 suspects in Xinjiang

Exile group claims they were shot after surrendering

Aug. 31, 2008

BEIJING - Chinese police shot dead six people suspected of involvement in a wave of violence in the far western region of Xinjiang and an exile group claimed they were killed after surrendering.

Police reportedly launched an operation to arrest nine people late Friday after a series of attacks in August killed 33 people and threatened to overshadow the Olympic Games.

Xinjiang — an isolated region that borders Afghanistan, Pakistan and six Central Asian nations — is home to China's ethnic minority Uighurs, who say they are repressed by the Chinese government. China has long said that insurgents are leading an Islamic separatist movement in Xinjiang.

Police encountered nine suspects in a corn field near the city of Kashgar on Friday night, , the official Xinhua News Agency reported. The suspects had knives and tried to resist arrest, putting up a "desperate struggle" and wounding one policeman. Three wounded suspects were arrested, it said.

One of the three captured suspects later died in a hospital as did a local militia man who was wounded, the People's Daily newspaper said on its Web site Sunday.

But an Uighur exile group accused police Saturday of gunning down the suspects, members of the Muslim Uighur ethnic minority, after they surrendered.

Dilxat Raxit, spokesman for the Germany-based World Uighur Congress, said armed police surrounded the corn field and asked the Uighur men through a loudspeaker to surrender themselves, promising to provide them with lawyers.

The suspects did not resist arrest, but police with submachine guns opened fire after they had surrendered, Raxit said in a statement Saturday, citing accounts by local Uighurs.

An official from the Xinjiang government — speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media — confirmed six suspects were shot dead. But he denied the men were killed after surrendering and called the allegations "nonsense."

Human rights groups say China has a history of using security threats in Xinjiang as an excuse for much broader crackdowns on human rights in the region.

'Pray for me,' Celil asks in first letter from prison

'Pray for me,' Celil asks in first letter from prison

May 22, 2008

OTTAWA — For the first time, imprisoned Canadian Huseyin Celil has spoken out in his own words about his 2½-year ordeal in the Chinese legal system, saying he is quickly losing hope that he will ever see the outside world again.

In a three-page letter sent from prison and obtained by The Globe and Mail, Mr. Celil asks his mother to forgive him for all the suffering he has put her through.

"Do not cry for me too much," he writes in the Uyghur language. "I cannot stand this unjust world - I am supposed to serve you as your son; I am supposed to help you under your knees all day and night, but now you are helping my son and taking care [of my children] for me. You have raised my two children as you did all my brothers and sisters. This is painful."

The letter is dated March 10 and appears to have originated from a prison in Urumqi in northwestern China.

It is important not only because it represents a rare firsthand communication from the imprisoned Canadian, but also because Mr. Celil's family has recently been denied access to him in prison and are not sure where he is being held.

The Globe reported in late March that Mr. Celil's whereabouts in China had become unknown to Canadian officials and his family.

The Globe also reported that the Chinese ambassador in Ottawa had been called into the Department of Foreign Affairs to discuss the situation. According to a Foreign Affairs spokesman at the time, Canadian officials asked the ambassador that Mr. Celil's family be allowed to visit him in prison, "if only on humanitarian grounds."

His supporters believe he is being kept away from visitors until the Beijing Olympics end later this summer. It is unclear whether the letter was written before he was moved to another prison.

Mr. Celil, a member of the Muslim Uyghur minority in China, was travelling on a Canadian passport when he was arrested in Uzbekistan two years ago and eventually handed over to Chinese officials. Beijing accused him of terrorism and sentenced him to life in prison in April of 2007. He and his supporters have always denied the charges against him.

Even though Mr. Celil is a Canadian citizen, he has not been given access to Canadian officials. Ottawa went to great lengths to press Beijing on his case in the months leading up to his sentencing. But while the case garnered much news-media attention at the time, it has largely dropped off the public radar. Chinese officials have privately and publicly made it clear that Beijing will not change its position on the case.

In his letter, Mr. Celil maintains that he has done nothing wrong. But it is clear that he has little information about how his case has progressed outside the walls of his prison. In a portion addressed to his wife, Kamila Telendibaeva in Canada, he asks her to tell officials in Canada's Chinese embassy about his situation.

"So far for nearly two years I have not seen anyone from Canada," he writes. "I am a citizen of Canada and I belong to this great country."

Mr. Celil said he has no idea what has been going on in the outside world since his arrest. He added that he has written to his mother twice but received no reply, even though "I can feel from the bottom of my heart that you came to Urumqi many, many times" to try to visit. He asks whether his wife is coming to visit him, and says he dreams about her every day.

But the majority of the letter is addressed to Mr. Celil's mother, and reflects both the prisoner's affection for her and his increasing resignation to the possibility that he may spend the rest of his life in jail.

"Please forgive me if I have ever done anything wrong to you in my life," he writes to his mother. "Please forgive me if I have ever spoken loudly in front of you.

"It is only God who can help me meet with all of you."

Translation of Huseyin Celil letter

Globe and Mail Update
May 22, 2008 at 4:10 AM EDT

Best Greetings of God over you

From Huseyin Celil

My Lovely, gracious mother, how are you doing?

I caused you tremendous suffer and pain. You spent whole of your life with my suffer. As a your child I only beg your pardon and pray for me.

I missed you very very much. If they allow, if your financial situation permits, I would be feel like myself in heaven with your one more visit along with my two children. Last time I was blessed seeing my sister when she visited me.

I missed my mother and two son from the bottom of my heart. I really want to see them one more time. I wrote twice to you but received no reply so far. Maybe you did not get my letters or the letter you send did not reach me.

I can figure out the reason. How about my all relatives? Are they fine?

How about my son Abdusemi, Abdugheni and Esma?

How about my lovely wife Kamila and my children in Canada? (naming his all children one by one) . were you able to continue to contact with my wife Kamila and my children in Canada? How are they doing? What is my wife Kamila saying on my bad luck? Please ask Kamila, let her continue to do something for me in Canada. I am now loosing my all hopes of returning back to my country and see my wife and children. I can not sleep by thinking my old handicapped son. Because I am in Prison now I am not aware of any thing about outside world. My days are passing with hoping of a miracle that can save me from this place and gives me chance of hugging my wife and children in Canada. I am worrying for my children all days scratching my head as a hopeless and helpless person. When I met with my sister last time she mentioned me in brief that Kamila would be coming to see me?

Any thing new about this? Please if you know any thing let me know with any possible ways.

Dear Mother, you are getting old. Please take care of yourself well, even though this is an empty wish, Please rest well. Do not cry for me too much. I could not stand this unjust world. I am supposed to serve you as your son, I am supposed to help you under your knees all day and night, but now you are helping my son and taking care of them for me. You have raised my two children as you did all my brothers and sisters. This is painful. This is indigestible.

Dear my sisters and brothers, Please take care of my mother well. Every thing can be found, not father and mother. We have only one mother who are precious for all of us. Think of me for a second, now I can do every thing to be able to see the face of my mother, I am thinking all day and night to serve her for a second, but I can not. Therefore you should know the value of our mother when she is alive and take this golden opportunity to serve her.

Please send my heartfelt greetings to my wife Kamila if you have a chance to talk with her on phone.

Dear Kamila, if possible please contact with the Embassy personal in Beijing and let them know my situation. So far nearly two years I have not seen any one from Canada. I am citizen of Canada and I belong to this great country.

If I am in jail know it is just because I got a bad luck. Otherwise I have not done any thing wrong in my whole life. I really want to talk with some one from our Embassy in Beijing, I would like to tell them that I am absolutely innocent person. I want them to know my story. Why they are not coming to see me? I want them to ask for me why I am in jail for so long? What went wrong? What is the reason? I want to know all of these. I could not find any one here to listen me. But our Embassy personal can ask these questions on my behalf.

I am always dreaming of Mehmet Salih and my wife Kamila. I can not pass any single minute without thinking them. So many things presses me all the time. In one hand my children in Kashgar grown up without seeing my fatherhood. Another hand my children in Canada living without knowing what has happened to their father. Also my mother is suffering and crying for me all day and night. Worst thing is I can not do any thing for my mother, children, wife and relatives except pray in my heart.

I pray my mother all the time. She has raised my children without me since years. I can not pay it back in my whole life. When I was about to be a person who can do some thing for my children and family, I ended up in jail for nothing. Please pray for me. That is the only thing that I can ask from you.

I can feel from the bottom of my heart that you came to Urumqi many many times and spent days and night for the hope to see me, visit me. I am grateful, I am thankful for the hardship you have experienced in cold and hot, snow and rain. I know you are doing it. I know the thin heart of my mother and my children and all of my relatives.

I hope my paper is enough to pour ( I think it meant to express) my heart.

I would like to put each and every name of my relatives on this paper and send my greetings from my heart.

He names all of his relatives one by one.

Dear mother, Please forgive me if I have done any thing wrong to you in my life. Please forgive me if I even have spoken loudly in front of you.

It is only God who can help me to meet with all of you.


Huseyin Celil

March 10, 2008

No: 5th subdivision of 6th district, Number 1 prison in Urumqi

Huseyin Celil

Celil, Guantanamo Bay and the rejected refugees

Celil, Guantanamo Bay and the rejected refugees

June 2, 2008

OTTAWA — Languishing behind prison walls somewhere in China, Huseyin Celil may never know how much impact he has had on the continuing plight of a group of his brethren held in a controversial prison on the other side of the planet.

The Globe and Mail has learned that the Canadian government came very close to accepting as refugees a group of Uyghur prisoners from Guantanamo Bay - men who were captured by bounty hunters in Pakistan six years ago, handed over to American soldiers, shipped off to Guantanamo and then almost immediately found to have done nothing wrong.

But Ottawa pulled back at the last minute, in large part, sources say, because of fears of what would happen to Mr. Celil, also a member of China's Uyghur minority, if the transfer went ahead - Beijing has lobbied furiously to keep any nation from accepting the Guantanamo Bay detainees.

Interviews with government and legal sources, as well as documents obtained under the Access to Information Act, show the political negotiations that went on behind the scenes, as the U.S. desperately tried to get rid of men it now admits pose no threat.

Those men might well be Canadian residents today if it weren't for another imprisoned Canadian whose release Ottawa is unable to secure.


In 2002, a few months after the U.S. invaded Afghanistan, bounty hunters across the region were rounding up anyone they could hand over to the American military, usually for a handsome sum - an arrangement the military frequently accepted.

Among those men were a group of almost two dozen Uyghur men captured in Pakistan. The Uyghurs are a Muslim minority group in northwest China. Since Sept. 11, 2001, Beijing has used the war on terrorism as leverage in its continuing crackdown on the Uyghurs, some of whom have fought fiercely for independence from China.

The men were handed over to the U.S. military for about $5,000 a head, and eventually flown to the newly established detention facility in Guantanamo Bay.

It quickly became clear to U.S. officials that, if the Uyghurs harboured hatred against any government, it was that of China, not the United States. The men denied allegations of wrongdoing, and it wasn't long before then-secretary of state Colin Powell was looking for a country to take the prisoners.

"The U.S. recognized very early on that these men were captured by mistake,' said J. Wells Dixon, an attorney with the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights, who represents some of the Uyghurs.

Although some of the detainees were cleared for release from Guantanamo Bay as early as 2003, it was not until 2006 that any of them actually left the naval base.

The timing of the men's release was coincidental at best. Some of the prisoners, who had earlier been declared "no longer enemy combatants," had filed court cases arguing the U.S. could no longer detain them. A U.S. court of appeal was set to hear arguments in the case on May 8, 2006. Three days before the hearing was scheduled, the five men were released from the base and flown to Albania. The court case was dismissed, and Washington avoided a ruling on whether what was happening in Guantanamo was legal.

Albania, which has no Uyghur community to speak of, was far from an ideal location for the men. Indeed, the U.S. had quietly (and unsuccessfully) lobbied about 100 countries to take the prisoners. Among those countries was Canada, a place the prisoners' lawyers had hoped would agree to take them in. Albania was the lone outlier among those countries, and not for purely benevolent reasons.

"It appears to us that they were sent to Albania because Albania owed the U.S. a political favour," said Mr. Dixon. "Albania wants very much to become a part of the European Union. ... As soon as [the Uyghurs] were sent to Albania, it was shortly thereafter that the U.S. announced support for Albania's efforts to join the European Union."

It is also believed that the U.S. paid millions of dollars as part of the transfer agreement.

But the factors were not the same with other countries. Many did not want to take men who were in any way associated with the controversial detention facility. Many questioned why Washington wouldn't allow the men to settle in the U.S. (something that would have had serious political and legal implications on the already controversial Guantanamo Bay facility).

But perhaps the most significant factor in the widespread refusal to accept the men had to do with Beijing's lobbying. The Chinese government made it clear that it considers any such transfers to be violations of international law, and wants the men instead sent to China. But the U.S. has refused to send the men back because of the likelihood they would be tortured. In an ironic twist, the U.S. was now put in a position where it had to protect men it once accused of heinous crimes from potentially heinous treatment.

Judging by how many nations refused to take the prisoners, China's lobbying appears to have been at least partly successful. But in Ottawa, Beijing's position carried even more weight.


On May 18, 2006, a U.S. delegation met with senior political staff at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Citizen and Immigration Canada, the Canada Border Services Agency, the Department of Justice and the Prime Minister's Office. The purpose of the high-level meeting was to discuss the Uyghurs.

It was not the first time the U.S. had asked for Canada's help. Washington had sent specific requests about the Uyghurs to Foreign Affairs, CIC and the Privy Council office in October, November and December of 2005.

Documents obtained under the Access to Information and Privacy Act show that Canadian officials at the May meeting indicated the prisoners would likely be inadmissible under Canadian immigration law, but did not make a firm decision.

"There has been no decision by the Government of Canada as to whether to formally discourage or encourage the US from making formal referrals for resettlement pursuant to the Canada-US Safe Third Country Agreement," a briefing note reads.

Under the agreement, anyone seeking refugee protection must make a claim in the first country they arrive in - be it the U.S. or Canada - unless they qualify for an exception. The situation may be more complicated in the case of Guantanamo Bay, a place that Washington has gone to great lengths to treat as a separate entity from the U.S.

"[The Department of Foreign Affairs] will need to consider the bilateral and multilateral implications" of any transfer, the briefing note reads.

Government officials were instructed not to talk about the potential transfer. Officials were to say that privacy legislation prohibits them from discussing specific immigration or refugee applications, but that "Canada has an active immigration and refugee program. Individual resettlement requests are assessed on a case-by-case basis."

Around the same time that Washington and Ottawa were discussing a potential transfer, Mr. Celil was travelling to Uzbekistan on his newly acquired Canadian passport to visit his wife's family. While applying for a visa extension in March, he was arrested. On June 26, despite initially denying any knowledge of the case, Uzbek officials informed their Canadian counterparts that Mr. Celil had been handed off to Beijing.

Almost immediately, Ottawa worked to release the detained Canadian, taking his case up at the highest level with even the Prime Minister involved. Among the myriad consular cases, this one was a priority, and that meant stopping anything that could make Mr. Celil's situation worse. The transfer of Uyghurs from Guantanamo Bay, once a very real possibility, was pulled off the table.

"My impression is that there was reluctance on the part of the Canadian government to do anything to further complicate their discussions with the Chinese government about Huseyin Celil," Mr. Dixon said. "In other words, that there was concern that if Canada accepted the Uyghur prisoners from Gitmo that that would anger the Chinese and it would potentially complicate efforts by the Canadian government to get Huseyin Celil released."

A source in Ottawa confirmed that Canada came very close to accepting the Uyghur prisoners, but ultimately backed off, in large part because of fears about how such a move would affect Mr. Celil's condition in China.

But if the refusal to accept the Uyghurs as refugees was meant to make the Celil negotiations go more smoothly, it failed. In April of 2007, Mr. Celil was sentenced to life in prison for terrorism offences - offences he strongly denies and Canadian officials said they've seen no evidence of. Mr. Celil has had no access to Canadian consular officials. Beijing refuses to accept his Canadian citizenship.


Today, both Mr. Celil and the Guantanamo Bay Uyghurs have little reason to be optimistic. Both remain in controversial prisons. Despite being declared a non-threat, the Uyghurs are kept in Camp Six, the highest-security detention facility in Guantanamo, where inmates are isolated for 22 hours a day. Mr. Celil is believed to be in a prison in northwest China, but his family is no longer certain of his exact location.

This is a photo of Huseyin Celil and one of his youngest children, taken shortly before his arrest last year. Amnesty International is calling for a special envoy to be sent in the case. (Handout)

In a way, both governments responsible for the detention of the Uyghurs and Mr. Celil have not changed their positions. Beijing has made it clear that it will not budge in Mr. Celil's case. And fearing that further protest may affect other aspects of the China-Canada relationship, Ottawa has toned down its efforts to bring the imprisoned Canadian home.

Washington, too, has not changed its position. The U.S. continues to lobby its allies to take the Uyghurs, who make up a significant portion of the 70 or so men that the U.S. deems not a security threat. Since all three remaining presidential candidates have indicated their desire to close the facility, the U.S. is desperate to get as many of those 70 as it can out of Guantanamo Bay.

"My impression is that if Canada announced that it would take the Uyghurs on Monday, they'd be in Canada on Friday," Mr. Dixon said.