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The Uyghur pawn

Beijing's dictatorship sentences a Canadian to life in prison without evidence to support their charges. The question remains, why?

Kevin Steel - May 21, 2007

Turani believes the Chinese are playing a game with the international community, and Canada in particular, by kidnapping Celil and then imprisoning him for life. "Eventually they are going to exchange Celil for something they want from Canada," Turani says. China did a similar thing, he says, when in 1999 they imprisoned Rabiya Kadir, a once successful Uyghur businesswoman, after she refused to speak out against her scholar husband, then living in the U.S., who had been critical of China. After six years in jail, she was freed in March 2005 and allowed to go to the U.S., after the American government exerted pressure on Beijing. Many China watchers interpreted her release as a public relations manoeuvre rather than a change of heart by the CCP. "They wanted to show the world, 'See how generous we are: we treat the people humanely, we don't have absolute dictatorship,'" Turani says.

If this is what China intends to do with Celil, then the CCP has done it at the expense of exposing yet again their bogus legal system. Also, it's a safe bet that, before the Celil case, only foreign policy wonks and human rights activists knew anything about the Uyghurs. Celil's trumped-up conviction has put a spotlight on that obscure ethnic minority, and has created a permanent irritant in Canada-Chinese relations. Just ahead of the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, that can't be good for a CCP desperately trying to whitewash its image.


Throughout Huseyin Celil's ordeal, numerous Chinese officials have repeated the claim that the matter is entirely a domestic affair and Canada shouldn't be meddling. Anyone who knows anything about Communist China would find this hypocrisy laughable. China is always meddling in the domestic affairs of other nations.

A good example was put before the Canadian public at the beginning of April, when it was revealed that Zhang Jiyan, the wife of a diplomat at the Chinese embassy in Ottawa, had defected to Canada in early March. She brought with her a document that showed how the embassy had tried to subvert the CRTC application of a New York-based Chinese-language television station, New Tang Dynasty Television, to broadcast in Canada. NTDTV is linked with the Falun Gong and is known to be critical of the Chinese Communist party.

There are numerous other examples. Two years ago, Chen Yonglin, a defector in Australia, identified a network of more than a thousand Chinese operatives in Canada, mostly keeping tabs on ethnic Chinese here. Then there are the connections with Canada's Power Corp., which has a stake in CITIC, one of the largest Chinese conglomerates, while Power Corp. has had direct links to past Canadian prime ministers going back to Trudeau. And who can forget the infamous Johnny Chung case in the U.S., where China funnelled money to the Democratic party in order to influence the 1996 election?

More articles by Kevin Steel