The wife of a Canadian Uyghur advocate who has been in a Chinese prison for 15 years says the federal government should use the use 2022 Beijing Olympics as a bargaining chip to bring her husband home.
Kamila Telendibaeva told CTV’s Question Period on Sunday that Canada should boycott the Olympics, or consider not sending athletes to Beijing, over China’s human rights abuses.
“First of all, before the Olympics start, before we’re going to send athletes to China to Beijing, I want to see Celil home, I want to see my husband home to Canada,” Telendibaeva said.
Telendibaeva’s husband, Huseyin Celil, has been detained in China since 2006. He was arrested in Uzbekistan and sent to China after his long-standing advocacy for the human rights of his Muslim ethnic Uyghur minority.
Telendibaeva said the family’s requests to Chinese officials to see Celil in-person have been unsuccessful. Their visits to him in prison were cut off about five years ago when Beijing first cracked down on Muslim Uyghurs in China’s Xinjiang province, rounding them up into prison camps, citing the need to fight terrorism.
Telendibaeva said she has not heard from her husband, either by phone or mail, since then.
“I don’t have any information about him,” she said.
She said she also hasn’t heard from Canadian officials on the state of Celil’s case in years.
“Since Trudeau has been in power, I haven’t met with any Canadian politicians, Canadian officials, not with the Trudeaus, not the foreign affairs minister, no one. Nobody was interested to meet to talk,” Telendibaeva said.
In a statement to CTV’s Question Period, Global Affairs Canada said Canadian officials have been “actively engaged” on Celil’s case since his initial detention and say they continue to be in “regular contact with and continue to provide support” to his family.
“While the Chinese government has refused to recognize Mr. Celil’s Canadian citizenship, Canadian officials continue to raise his case with Chinese officials at senior levels and press for consular access. Mr. Celil’s ongoing detention is deeply concerning and we continue to engage with China to verify his health and wellbeing,” the statement read in part.
While Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor were recently released, Telendibaeva said more needs to be done for those Canadians who are still detained in China.
Kovrig and Spavor returned to Canada last weekend after spending more than 1,000 days in Chinese custody on espionage charges that were widely viewed as a retaliatory response to Canada’s December 2018 arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou on a U.S. warrant related to the company’s business dealings in Iran. China has consistently denied that the cases were in any way connected.
However, the two Canadians’ release came hours after a B.C. judge discharged the extradition matter against Meng after U.S. Justice Department officials reached a deal to resolve the criminal charges against her, allowing Meng to enter into a deferred prosecution agreement and leave Canada, under certain terms.
Canada’s ambassador to the U.S. previously told CTV’s Question Period that the Chinese government initiated the dialogue to release Kovrig and Spavor, noting that the U.S. did not make the freedom of the two Canadians a condition of the deferred prosecution agreement reached with Meng.
However, China’s Foreign Ministry has said that the two Canadians were released on bail for health reasons.
Both of the Canadians stood trial in China, and Spavor had been handed down an 11-year sentence, while Kovrig had yet to be sentenced before their release. In an emailed statement to CTVNews.ca, Global Affairs Canada maintained that Kovrig and Spavor are innocent.
While Telendibaeva said she is relieved that the two Michaels are back in Canada, she said she wishes her husband was also returning home.
“We are very happy the two Michaels have been reunited with their family… It’s really amazing,” Telendibaeva said.
Holding back tears, Telendibaeva said it has been “very difficult” to raise their four children on her own. She said Celil has never met his youngest son, now a teenager.
“I was the father, I was the mother, and then I’ve been the family members. I was alone to raise four boys,” Telendibaeva said. “The boys, they were so little. Now, they became adults, they’ve become men.”
When asked why the government hasn’t been successful at securing Celil’s release, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Tuesday that the two Michaels were detained for political reasons, which “galvanized” public opinion in Canada and around the world.
“We were able to demonstrate that we are a country of the rule of law, and we never flinched on applying the fundamental rules of our justice system,” Trudeau said.
“We will continue to advocate for people who are wrongly imprisoned around the world as we have for many years as we will continue to.”
With files from The Canadian Press