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Central Asia: Uyghurs Hit By Autocratic States' Cooperation With Beijing

Uyghurs in China complain of severe repression and discrimination (file photo) (epa) An Uyghur political dissident from China, Huseyin Celil, remains in detention in Uzbekistan. Celil -- who is now a Canadian citizen -- was arrested in March in Tashkent at the request of Chinese authorities. Human rights groups fear that Celil might face torture and even death if extradited to China. Meanwhile, two more Uyghur men have been in detention in neighboring Kazakhstan. Observers say Uyghurs are victims of cooperation between the autocratic states in Central Asia and China.

PRAGUE, April 28, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Thirty-seven-year old Huseyin Celil, an ethnic Uyghur originally from northwestern China, was detained in Tashkent on March 27.

Celil was with his wife and three children visiting his in-laws in Tashkent. He was detained while applying for a renewal of his Uzbek visa.

Amnesty International says it has documented several cases of Uyghurs being sentenced to death and executed in the XUAR for alleged acts of separatism and terrorism in recent years.

Held Without Charges

Celil's wife, Komila Telindibaeva, returned to her home in Hamilton, eastern Canada, after several futile attempts to see her husband, who was held by the Uzbek Interior Ministry. She tells RFE/RL that no charges have been brought against Celil so far.

"They (Uzbek authorities) don't say anything, we heard nothing from them," Telindibaeva said. "They don't say what they will do. They haven't said anything to the [Canadian] consul when he phoned them."

Before obtaining a refugee status in Canada in 2001, Celil was a political activist and fought for the rights of Muslim Uyghurs in China's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), where he was arrested and allegedly tortured. In 1996, he fled to Kyrgyzstan where he also spent nine months in jail at China's request, Telindibaeva says. After being acquitted, Celil fled to Turkey before reaching Canada.

Celil's wife says he has not been involved in any political activity since fleeing China.

Canadian Government Involved

Rights watchdog groups and 12 other nongovernmental organizations expressed concern over Celil's fate saying he is likely to face torture and execution if returned to China. They wrote to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper asking him to intervene personally.

Beth Berton-Hunter, Amnesty International's information officer, spoke to RFE/RL from Toronto.

"That's very much our concern and that's why we've asked the Canadian government to intervene on his behalf as a Canadian citizen and to ensure that he is released and returned to Canada," she said.

Beth Richardson of the Canadian Embassy in Moscow told RFE/RL on April 27 that embassy officials have been in contact with Uzbek authorities about the case. The embassy official is in Tashkent where she met with Celil, Richardson said, but she refused to speak of Celil's current state. Neither did she elaborate on Ottawa's negotiations with Tashkent.

Canadian authorities say they are using all possible diplomatic avenues, including appeals to other countries, to press for the release of Celil from jail.

Prime Minister Harper assigned his parliamentary secretary, Jason Kenney, to personally deal with the case.

Speaking after Celil's wife, Telindibaeva, gave a press conference on April 26, Kenney said it was "outrageous" that the Uzbek authorities detained Celil without any clear explanation as to why or what their interest is in him.

He added that Ottawa is "preoccupied" with Celil's fate and is pressing the case "with full vigor."

Others Also Detained

Meanwhile, two more Uyghur men remain in detention in Kazakhstan.

Thirty-five-year old Yusuf Kadir Tohti and Abdukadir Sidik, aged 30, both originally from the XUAR, were detained in Kazakhstan last month.

Tohti has lived in Kazakhstan since 1996 and worked as a religious teacher. In China, he was accused of promoting separatism.

Sidik fled the XUAR in 1999 after publicly protesting against Beijing's policy on minorities, particularly the family planning policy, which limits the number of children families can have.

Amnesty International's Berton-Hunter says all three men were detained on an extradition request by China.

"There is certainly an arrangement between the different Central Asian countries and China," she says. "What has been confirmed is that they are sending people back to China. What the whole issue is, really, that it's Chinese-driven as far as we can see."

Chinese authorities have accused Uyghurs -- Turkic-speaking Muslims -- of violent Islamic separatism aimed at creating an independent state of East Turkestan in northwestern China.

Official Beijing has labeled separatism, terrorism, and extremism as "three evil forces" and, as many argue, used them as a pretext to crack down on dissent. Experts also say China has used the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) to target dissidents.

Notably, the three arrests took place before the SCO defense minister gathering in Beijing on April 26, when the group -- which is comprised of Russia, China, and four Central Asian states, marked its 10th anniversary.

Dilshod Rashid, a Sweden-based spokesman for the World Uyghur Congress, tells RFE/RL that Uyghurs have become victims of cooperation between Central Asian states and China.

"When the whole world put diplomatic, political pressure on Uzbekistan after the Andijon events, [Uzbek President] Islam Karimov was [embraced] in Beijing," Rashid said. "This was a demonstration of cooperation between two dictatorial states.

One of the aspects of this cooperation is that in Uzbekistan, Uyghurs and even pro-democratic Uzbeks have been oppressed and thrown in jail. Arrests of people fighting for East Turkestan's freedom and [possible] extradition of them to Beijing is also a result of this cooperation."

History Of Repression In China

Human rights groups say that if returned to China, the three men would be at serious risk, including torture or other ill-treatment, possibly even the death penalty.

Komila Telindibaeva also expressed fear for her husband's future if he would be extradited to China. "I am fearful of China," she said. "He didn't do anything wrong in Central Asia. He was detained only at the request of China."

Amnesty International says it has documented several cases of Uyghurs being sentenced to death and executed in the XUAR for alleged acts of separatism and terrorism in recent years.

The most recent case is Ismail Semed, an Uyghur human-rights activist, who was sentenced to death following deportation from Pakistan to China and was likely executed, the Washington-based Uyghur Human Rights Project said earlier this month.

RFE/RL Central Asia Report

RFE/RL Central Asia Report

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