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Huseyin Celil, of Burlington, Ont., was arrested on March 26 in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, and extradited to China, where he was given a 15-year jail sentence. ((Canadian Press))

A family in a remote Chinese province is urging Ottawa to get their son released from prison, saying the federal government hasa duty to protect him because he's a Canadian citizen.

Huseyin Celil, who was born in China but moved toCanada in 2001,is serving a 15-year sentence in a Chinese prison after being convicted on a series of terrorism-related charges. The 37-year-old was arrested in March in Uzbekistan and then extradited three months later to China.

His 80-year-old mother and middle-aged sisters told CBC News they are praying that Canada will help, adding they can't visit Celil in prison and haven't seen any evidence of his alleged crimes.

Celil's mother said she is afraid she'll die without seeing her son alive again.

China hinders Ottawa's attempts to intervene

Celil's wife, Kamila Telendibaeva — who lives inBurlington, Ont., with fourof their seven children — met last week with Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his parliamentary secretary to discuss Celil's plight.

Both the parliamentary secretary, Jason Kenney, and Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay have stated that the Canadian government has encountered obstacles inintervening on Celil's behalf.

"The most difficult issue, of course, is that he is a dual citizen," said MacKay. "He has a Canadian passport but China refuses to recognize dual citizens, as is the case with a number of countries including Iran, Syria and others."

Because China doesn't recognize Celil's Canadian citizenship, they have refused to let Canadian embassy staff meet with him.

Liberal MP says Tories haven't tried hard enough

Liberal MP Dan McTeague questioned whether the Conservatives have pursued all avenues in the case.

"I'm concerned that the requests have not been made at the highest level," said McTeague. "In other words, I don't think the prime minister himself has spoken to his equivalent to ensure that basic consular access is given."

Celil grew up near the city of Kashgar in Xinjiang province, home to millions of Muslims, including China's largest ethnic group— the Uyghurs.

The Chinese allege Celil was a separatist who worked against China's national unity because he was a political advocate forUyghurs. In China, "separatist" and "terrorist" are interchangeable terms.

Celil's older brother, who lives near Kashgar with their mother, said Chinese officials were out to get Celil because he was a dedicated Muslim who studied the Koran.

Accused of helping to kill political leader

Celil was arrested in China in 1994 on charges of organizing a political party for Uyghurs. Chinese officials say he helped assassinate a political leader in Kyrgyzstan, an accusation Celil's family and lawyer have denied.

Celil escaped prison and fled to Uzbekistan before coming to Canada in 2001 as a refugee from Turkey. He married and had children in Canada.

Celil's family says he was in Uzbekistan earlier in 2006 because he was trying to get his three remaining children out of China.