Jailed Canadian activist Huseyin Celil has finally been allowed to meet with his lawyer, more than a month after a Chinese court sentenced him to life in prison for terrorism-related offences.
Mr. Celil met with his hired Chinese lawyer last Thursday and Friday, according to the Uyghur Canadian Association. Each meeting lasted about two hours, marking a dramatic shift in the amount of access China allows to Mr. Celil.
Previously, neither his Chinese lawyer nor Canadian embassy officials were allowed to meet the prisoner.
Indeed, embassy officials were barred from entering the courtroom when his sentence was handed down in April.
Mr. Celil was represented by another court-appointed lawyer during his trial. His current lawyer was hired by relatives and supporters to work on his appeal.
Mehmet Tohti, head of the Uyghur Canadian Association, said Mr. Celil's Chinese lawyer was given assurances after his first two meetings that he would be granted consistent access to his client.
That's a sharp change from a little more than a month ago, when Mr. Celil's lawyer asked the jailed Canadian's family to deny his involvement in the case, for fear of potential retribution from the Chinese authorities.
Last month, former prime minister Paul Martin visited China to attend the African Development Bank's annual meeting. He serves as an adviser to the organization.
During his time in the country, Mr. Martin met with Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao for 35 minutes, where he raised Mr. Celil's case and repeated the Conservative government's demand that the imprisoned Canadian be given consular access. Yesterday, Mr. Tohti said the newly relaxed restrictions on Mr. Celil's access to lawyers is likely a sign that Mr. Martin's meeting and the current government's tough stand on the issue are working.
According to Mr. Tohti, the meetings between Mr. Celil and his lawyer included two other people: a translator and a representative of China's secret police.
Mr. Celil looked to be in good health, Mr. Tohti said, but it was unclear how honest he was able to be about certain topics, due to the police representative at the meeting.
Mr. Celil is an ethnic Uyghur, a Muslim minority group that resides primarily in the Xinjiang region of northwest China.
He was arrested in Uzbekistan and handed over to China more than a year ago. He was travelling on a Canadian passport at the time of his arrest.
Chinese authorities have labelled Mr. Celil a terrorist, and charged him with engaging in violent separatist activities.
His case has strained relations between China and Ottawa, as government officials in Canada continued to protest against his detention without consular access. Human-rights groups have also expressed concerns that Mr. Celil has been tortured during his time in Chinese custody.