China reduces prison sentences for 11 Uighurs, including Canadian

BEIJING - A court in western China has reduced the sentences of 11 Uighurs convicted of terrorism and endangering state security, including a naturalized Canadian preacher whose life term had been sharply criticized by Ottawa.

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The official Xinhua News Agency reported late Monday that sentences of 11 Uighurs at Xinjiang's First Prison were commuted following a prison-wide rally where they apologized for their crimes.

Celil fled China and gained refugee status in 2000. He preached in Ottawa before being extradited in 2006 from Uzbekistan to China, which refused to recognize his Canadian citizenship and convicted him of organizing on behalf of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement militant group.

Aside from the reduction of life sentences to fixed terms, four prisoners, including a man convicted of contacting the ETIP and setting up training bases in Afghanistan, saw lengthy prison terms reduced to six months.

The new duration of Huseyin Celil's sentence has not been announced, but the decision was lauded by activist John Kamm, who has pressed for Celil's release on behalf of the Canadian government since 2009.

Kamm, based in San Francisco, told The Associated Press on Wednesday that commuting Celil's sentence represented “a step in the right direction” and could prompt other Xinjiang prisons to consider mass clemency.


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