A Canadian imprisoned in China told a courtroom he was tortured last year by Chinese secret police, including being starved, constantly questioned and threatened with being buried alive and "disappeared," relatives of Huseyin Celil say.
But no Canadian diplomat was in the room during Mr. Celil's rare appearance -- a fact that triggered a flurry of activity yesterday from the Conservative government.
Ottawa said that Canadian diplomats have been dispatched to the province where Mr. Celil is being detained and are under orders to remain on site indefinitely.
Mr. Celil, a former mosque leader in Hamilton, was detained in March while visiting his wife's family in Uzbekistan. Under an agreement between the two countries, Uzbekistan sent him to China, where he has been detained for the past eight months.
The 38-year-old is a member of the Uyghur minority in northwest China. The Uyghur people's demand for autonomy has long angered Beijing, which has levelled terrorism accusations against many members of the Muslim minority group.
Mr. Celil's allegations of torture add a new element to what has become one of the highest profile consular cases of Stephen Harper's time as Prime Minister.
Mr. Celil was at the centre of a major diplomatic row last year between Ottawa and Beijing. En route to meet with Asia-Pacific leaders in Vietnam last November, Mr. Harper said Canada would not sell out Canada's belief in human rights for the "almighty dollar."
"When a Canadian citizen is taken from a third country and imprisoned in China, this is a serious concern to this country," Mr. Harper said at the time, a reference to Mr. Celil.
When the Canadian diplomats arrive in the provincial city of Urumqi, Mr. Celil's relatives, who have been there for the past month, will tell them what they heard in the courtroom.
Last Friday's court appearance was attended by Mr. Celil's sister and his son. They initially did not tell Mr. Celil's wife, Kamila, who lives near Toronto, about her husband's accusations of torture because they feared they were being monitored by the secret police.
Mehmet Tohti, head of the Uyghur Canadian Association, said Mr. Celil's family first called him on Saturday, the day after the six-hour court appearance. Fearing they were being monitored by Chinese police, the family said Mr. Celil was in good condition and that there was "some good debate" during his court hearing, Mr. Tohti said.
When the family called back from a public phone on Monday, they outlined allegations of torture and false confessions, Mr. Tohti said.
"They're scared to death to give this information," he said.
Canadian officials took the unusual step this week of using the news media to berate Canada's diplomats in China for failing to attend the court appearance. Officials were quoted without being named Monday, saying the Prime Minister was demanding an explanation.
A call to the Foreign Affairs Department was returned yesterday by the political office of Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay.
Mr. MacKay's spokesman, Dan Dugas, said the minister "is not happy" with the way Mr. Celil's file has been handled and that the minister personally called the Canadian embassy in Beijing on Monday and yesterday.
"The Chinese government is not co-operating with the Canadian mission in China and we aren't going to stop asking them for what's happening with Mr. Celil," said Mr. Dugas, who would not comment directly on claims the Prime Minister was angered that no official was in the court.
"I can tell you he [Mr. MacKay]is not happy either," Mr. Dugas said. "He's asking for answers. He wants to know what is being done and what the next steps are going to be."
Liberal MP Dan McTeague said the new allegations of torture being made by Mr. Celil's family are "extremely serious" and now require the Prime Minister to personally phone the Chinese President to demand answers.
"If indeed what has transpired here is correct, nothing short of a direct intervention by the Prime Minister to his counterpart [Chinese President]Hu Jintao, is going to resolve this," he said. "My overall concern remains that the Prime Minister has seen fit to heap blame on diplomats as opposed to taking up the matter himself."
Conservative MP Helena Guergis, a Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, said the Liberals' attacks in the House of Commons yesterday are hypocritical given that Liberals blamed Mr. Harper for harming relations with China when he raised the Celil case in November.
"They've been very highly critical of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, especially when he stood up for Mr. Celil, raising human rights with President Hu," she said. "The Liberals should be very embarrassed."
Ms. Celil, who has not seen or spoken with her husband in almost a year, said she is pleased Canada is sending officials to Urumqi, but would like Canada to do more to establish contact with her husband.
"I'm happy and I want to say thank you," she said, "but I think the Canadian government could do more."