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Rex Murphy Point of View - Speaking Up for Celil
CBC News, The National
May 22, 2008

Brenda Martin, the Canadian recently released from the rigors of a Mexican jail, was in one respect very fortunate.

Publicity and access.

In that sense Brenda Martin was in a far, far more desirable circumstance than another Canadian, Mr. Huseyin Celil, who has for the last two and a half years been in a jail far more rigorous than anything in Mexico, somewhere in China. I said "somewhere" because the first thing to know about Mr. Celil's plight is that no one in Canada knows, which jail, where, he is.

Very briefly, the background in its raw detail is this. Mr. Celil, a member of a Muslim minority community, was travelling on a Canadian passport to Uzbekistan. He was arrested, extradited to China, charged with terrorism, convicted and jailed for life. He denies the charges.

About the case against him I can really say nothing, since - on this side of the globe - nobody saw the trial. But today, the Globe and Mail published an extraordinary letter - the only communication with the outside world Mr. Celil has managed since this disaster.

I call it extraordinary because of its dignity and selflessness. He states "so far I have not seen anyone from Canada." This obviously distresses him, but not primarily from the perspective of his own situation, but because he sees it as a wound to Canada - to his country. With most eloquent plainness he continues: "I am a citizen of Canada and I belong to this great country." I wonder how many of us, if we were forgotten in a Chinese jail cell could/would write that same sentence.

But the really extraordinary part is in the 'direction' of his concern. It is not about himself. He seems to be more worried about his wife and family, and for the pains his awful plight must be causing for them. Though he has not seen his family, he writes: "I can feel from the bottom of my heart that you came to Urumqi many, many times" to try to visit. He tells his wife he "dreams about her every day."

But as the Globe notes the majority of the letter is spoken to his mother. He is worried, ashamed even, that he may have injured or pained her - and thus from some anonymous jail cell, where he clearly expects to stay for life, he asks her forgiveness: "Please forgive me if I have ever done anything wrong to you in my life." Mr. Celil has a scrupulousness about causing personal offense that is truly astonishing, he continues: "Please forgive me if I have ever spoken loudly in front of you."

As I said, I know nothing of the case against him, but the regard shown in this letter, the affection for his wife, and respect for his mother is of a rare and highly singular standard. He neither rages against his own tragedy, the cruel horror of being snatched and jailed for life, nor flings his anger at officials or government.

The burden of the note is his aching concern for wife, children, and mother.

We should be pleased Canada has such citizens. All the more reason that Mr. Celil's nightmare should be the active business of our federal government, our premiers and press, and all Canadians.

It is simply not enough that China declare his guilt, place him in jail for life, deny him communication, and hide him away in the darkness of its prison system -- and that we should ignore it. Trade missions and Olympic games are not worth the silence his case has earned so far.

For The National, I'm Rex Murphy.


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