East Toronto residents with Amnesty International call for the release of Canadian Huseyin Celil

Brian Deming, Kara Dawson and Michael Kanter, members of Amnesty International Group 164/123 (Toronto East), send postcards to the Chinese ambassador to Canada calling for the release of Huseyin Celil. Photo: Submitted.

When the “two Michaels,” Canadians Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig, were incarcerated in China in 2019, they became the focus of national attention. After nearly three years, 1,019 days to be exact, they were set free.

But another Canadian unjustly imprisoned still languishes behind bars in China. He is Huseyin Celil, held for 17 years and counting.

Beach residents and other members of Amnesty International Group 164/123 (Toronto East) are campaigning to win his release. They ask local residents who share their concern about human rights to take part in a postcard campaign to bring this man home. Everyone is welcome to pick up a prepared postcard from one of the locations below, sign it, and mail it. It’s addressed to China’s ambassador to Canada and urges him to press his government to release Celil.

The two Michaels were incarcerated in retaliation for the house arrest in Canada of Meng Wanzhou, wanted on a U.S. warrant for bank fraud in connection with the technology firm Huawei.

That story ended well for the two Michaels. Both were set free within 24 hours of Meng’s return to China after she obtained a deferred prosecution agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice. Meanwhile, Celil’s story goes on with little attention and no release in sight.

In 2001, Celil knew he had to get out of China – as an Imam in northwest China, peacefully advocating for the rights of Uyghurs to practice their religion, he had already been imprisoned for 18 months. On his release, he went to Uzbekistan where he met, and eventually married, Kamila Talendibaeva. After obtaining refugee status from the United Nations Human Rights Commission, Celil made his way to Canada and settled with his family in Burlington.

In 2005, Celil obtained his Canadian citizenship and in 2006 the family made a fateful trip to Uzbekistan to visit his wife’s parents who were in poor health. Unbeknownst to him, China had an extradition arrangement with Uzbekistan that resulted in his detention and transfer to China. There, he was charged with terrorism and “splitism,” the pursuit of factional interests independent of the official Communist Party position.

Celil’s trial was a sham with no evidence linking him to terrorism. During his trial, authorities prevented him from speaking to his lawyer or presenting evidence on his own behalf. Though a Canadian citizen, he was denied consular representation. Initially, Celil was sentenced to death, which was later commuted to life in prison. In 2018 his sentence was changed to 20 years, starting afresh!

Since 2016, no one has been able to contact him; both his location and the status of his health are unknown and he has been denied, and has never received, consular visits. His trial and imprisonment mocks China’s commitment to abide by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and violates China’s own constitutional guarantee of the right to freedom of expression.

In lobbying for Celil’s immediate release, Group 164/123, along with several other groups across Canada, conduct such activities as letter-writing campaigns to Canadian and Chinese government officials and raising money to support Celil’s wife and four sons, one of whom he has never met. The goal of the current postcard campaign is to send over 2,000 cards to the Chinese ambassador.

In his speech to Canada’s Parliament on March 24, U.S. President Joe Biden made this remark about “our” citizens: “They’re human beings with lives and families that must be respected. And I’m very glad to see the two Michaels, Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig, are safely back with their families after more than 1,000 days — 1,000 days in detention.” A standing ovation followed for the two Michaels seated in the gallery. Sadly, no mention was made of our other citizen, Huseyin Celil.

— Written by Andrew Wilson and Brian Deming on behalf of Group 164/123 Toronto East. Postcards can be picked up at: Beach Metro News, 2196 Gerrard St. E.; Beaches Recreation Centre, 6 Williamson Rd. – see the Community Bulletin Board in the lobby; or, Juice & Java Café, 2102 Queen St. E. – see the Community Board upstairs. This article is based on research provided by Amnesty International and a white paper published by the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights. Amnesty International Group 164/123 meets the first Tuesday of every month. For info, email ai164toronto@gmail.com

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