A Canadian citizen jailed in China for alleged terrorist links has been sentenced to life in prison, according to China's official Xinhua news agency.

Huseyin Celil was sentenced for allegedly taking part in terrorist activities and plotting to split the country, Xinhua said.

Celil, 37, was arrested last year in Uzbekistan, and then extradited to China to face charges laid in the early 1990s.

In 1994, Celil was arrested for establishing a political party for the country's minority Muslim Uighurs. Chinese officials also alleged he helped assassinate a political leader in Kyrgyzstan. Celil's family and lawyer have denied that allegation.

He escaped prison and later applied for refugee status in 2001 in Turkey, eventually becoming a Canadian citizen and settling in Burlington, Ont.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who has said he has raised Celil's case with China's president, has insisted Chinese authorities have yet to provide any evidence of wrongdoing.

Celil's relatives have said they believe he is being tortured.

Celil's wife, reached by the Canadian Press at her Burlington, Ont., home, said she was notified of her husband's sentence by Foreign Affairs officials at about 1 a.m. ET on Thursday.

'Bring him back home'

"I will not give up. I worked hard and I will work again to release my husband, to bring him back home," said Kamila Telendibaeva.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry has said it considers Celil a citizen of its country and denied him access to Canadian consular service.

A spokesperson at the Canadian Embassy in Beijing called the arrest "a great blow to Mr. Celil and his family," adding that Canada "remains very concerned" that China has prevented Canadian officials from meeting with him.

"We would urge the Chinese authorities to grant embassy officials access to Mr. Celil," said the spokesperson, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay is also expected to raise the issue of Celil's case when he vists China on April 29, but a spokesman from the Chinese Foreign Ministry said it did not want Canadians to "interefere in China's domestic affairs."

In a news conference in Bejing, the Chinese ministry spokesmansaid,"We … also hope that Chinese-Canadian relations won't be affected."

Persecuted because he is Muslim

The details of Celil's trial and sentence have been shrouded in secrecy, with reports he was tried in August. It was previously reported he had been given a 15-year sentence.

His family says he is being persecuted because he is a Muslim and a political dissident.

Chinese authorities have long maintained militants among the Uighurs — Turkic-speaking Muslims — are leading a violent Islamic separatist movement in the region and are seeking to set up an independent state of "East Turkistan."

The separatist movement gained momentum following the dissolution of the former Soviet Union and the establishment of several independent and largely Muslim countries in the neighbouring region.

With files from the Associated Press