Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Free Huseyin Celil

OTTAWA--The federal government says it is using "all possible diplomatic avenues" to press for the release of Canadian Islamic religious leader Huseyin Celil from jail in Uzbekistan, where he faces deportation to China and possible execution.

Celil's pregnant wife, Kamila Telendibaeva, held an emotional news conference along with Amnesty International at the House of Commons today, where she read a statement pleading for help.

The human rights group and 12 other non-governmental organizations have written Prime Minister Stephen Harper asking him to intervene personally to help Celil, a political dissident who fled China in the mid-1990s before coming to Canada as a refugee and getting citizenship.

Harper's parliamentary secretary, Jason Kenney, says Ottawa is "preoccupied" with Celil's release and has dedicated a full-time consular official out of Moscow to the case.

Supporters want Canada to ensure legal counsel to the prisoner and to recruit other countries to help pressure the Uzbek government into freeing Celil, who has championed the cause of the Uygur people, an ethnic Muslim minority in China's Xinjiang province.

Celil was arrested in the central Asian republic of Uzbekistan on March 27 when he tried to renew his visa while the couple and their children were visiting Telendibaeva's family; no charges have been laid.

Telendibaeva returned to Canada last weekend after she was repeatedly denied visits to see her husband in jail. He was apparently arrested on a warrant from China and a ruling ordering his execution.

Amnesty International fears Celil, who escaped prison in China once, will be sent back because of close ties between the two countries and mutual extradition treaties.


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