Celil allowed to meet with mother, sister
|OMAR EL AKKAD
Globe and Mail
October 13, 2008 at 7:58 PM EDT
His sister, 39-year-old Heyrigul
Celil, and his mother, 75-year-old Shalehan Spander,
with a photo of Huseyin Celil and one of his youngest
children. He mailed them the photo shortly before his
arrest last year. (Geoffrey York/The Globe and Mail)
|OTTAWA — Even through the grainy,
often-undecipherable audio of a secretly recorded prison
conversation, the sound of uncontrollable weeping is
For the first time since his arrest nearly three years
ago, Huseyin Celil's voice has resonated beyond the
walls of his prison. Mr. Celil – a Canadian citizen who
is serving a life sentence on terrorism charges in China
– was allowed to meet with his mother and sisters in a
remote northwest China prison last week. The
conversation was secretly recorded using a cellphone,
and a copy of that recording has been obtained by The
Globe and Mail.
The Globe has also learned that Canadian consular
officials travelled to northwest China to meet with Mr.
Celil's family before and after the family met him
(Canadian consular officials have never been allowed to
meet Mr. Celil personally), and the Canadian officials
were provided with a copy of the recording.
Mr. Celil, 39, is an ethnic Uyghur – a Muslim minority
group that resides primarily in the Xinjiang region of
northwestern China. Human-rights groups complain that
Beijing has clamped down on Uyghur rights, especially
since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, using the war on
terror as a pretext.
Mr. Celil and his wife fled to Canada and received
Canadian citizenship in November of 2005. Mr. Celil was
arrested in Uzbekistan and handed over to China in the
summer of 2006. He was travelling on a Canadian passport
at the time. China accused him of terrorism and
sentenced him to life in prison. Chinese officials have
never recognized his Canadian citizenship.
It is difficult to make out much of the half-hour
conversation, which was recorded secretly through layers
of clothing as about half a dozen Chinese prison guards
watched. The first three minutes of the recording,
however, are dominated by the sound of Mr. Celil's
mother and sister sobbing.
Uyghur translators are also able to make out a few words
and phrases, including a point where Mr. Celil's sister
says “May the Almighty make it easier,” and times when
Mr. Celil uses the Uyghur words for “sunlight,”
“darkness” and “my children.”
“Mr. Celil has said that his health has been
deteriorated badly and he needed to see a doctor, but he
has not been allowed so far,” said Mehmet Tohti, a
Uyghur activist. “It is obvious that staying in solitary
confinement, without any exposure to the sun and served
only one meal with no nutritional value made him
In another portion of the recording, Mr. Tohti says Mr.
Celil can faintly be heard using the Uyghur words for
“my country” – a reference, his family says, to Canada.
According to Mr. Tohti, who spoke with Mr. Celil's
family after the meeting last week, Canadian consular
officials travelled to Urumqi in northwest China, the
location of Mr. Celil's prison. Mr. Tohti said the
officials met with Mr. Celil's family twice, and in the
second meeting were provided a copy of the audio
A Foreign Affairs spokeswoman in Ottawa did not respond
to requests to confirm that officials had received a
copy of the recording.
Mr. Celil, who has no contact with the outside world
beyond these infrequent meetings with his family, has
repeatedly asked why Canada has not come to his aid.
After his arrest, the Harper government pushed hard on
his behalf, with top government officials stating
publicly that they had seen no evidence to support the
charges against the Canadian (Mr. Celil has always
denied the charges against him).
But Chinese officials have made it clear that they
consider the matter closed, and officials in Ottawa say
privately that efforts on Mr. Celil's behalf have been
ramped down, in part for fear that pushing the issue
could hurt other aspects of Ottawa's relationship with
Activists in Canada had hoped to focus attention to Mr.
Celil's plight in the lead-up to the Summer Olympics in
Beijing, but those efforts yielded few results.
The audio recording marks only the second time since his
arrest that Mr. Celil's own words have been made public.
In May, The Globe obtained a copy of a letter he wrote
to his family from prison. In the letter, he asks his
wife to tell Canadian officials his story, and
apologizes to his mother for the suffering his
imprisonment has caused her.
China: Uighur Writer Detained
(Oct 09 2008)
US Court of Appeals blocks
release of Guantánamo Uighurs as government resorts to
‘scare tactics’ - (10 October 2008)
2 Chinese Policemen Killed, 7
Wounded in Xinjiang - ( 8/28/2008 )
Two police die in Xinjiang clash
- ( 8/28/2008 )
US disappointed Olympics didn't
open China more - ( 8/24/2008 )
Uyghurs stand up to China over
East Turkistan - ( 8/18/2008 )
Few answers in violence-hit
Xinjiang - ( 8/16/2008 )