Four years after a fruitless search and after being given the runaround by Chinese authorities, the family of a Uyghur construction worker who disappeared in the wake of ethnic riots in Xinjiang in 2009 believes he may have been tortured to death or simply killed in jail.
Initially, the local police and the ruling Chinese Community Party branch acknowledged that Enver Turdi was in the custody of authorities, saying he was being held because he was a key witness to an undisclosed event.
But over the years, they have made an about turn and denied any knowledge of his whereabouts, family members said.
Enver Turdi and his younger brother Imin Turdi, also a construction worker, were picked up by police after deadly clashes erupted on July 5, 2009 between minority Uyghurs and majority Han Chinese in Xinjiang's capital Urumqi.
When Imin Turdi was freed four months after his detention, police said his brother, who was 26 years old at that time, would be held for a few more months, according to their eldest brother Qasim Turdi.
Police, he said, gave the impression that Enver Turdi was first held in a jail in Urumqi and then transferred to one in Awat county in midwestern Xinjiang's Aksu prefecture.
But months have turned to years of frantic searches and inquiries by the family, including his heartbroken mother, who died at the age of 54 early this year, said Qasim Turdi, 34.
Imin Turdi believes that Chinese authorities killed his brother to prevent him from speaking up on "tragic" events he had witnessed in jail or that he may have been a victim of torture in prisons either in Urumqi or Awat.
"I assume there are two possibilities—one is that my brother witnessed a tragedy in jail in Urumqi, and he been killed there. The second is that my brother died in jail in Awat due to torture," the 28-year-old Imin Turdi told RFA's Uyghur Service last week.
About 10,000 Uyghurs have been reported missing since the 2009 violence, most of them taken into custody by authorities in large-scale sweep operations, according to Rebiya Kadeer, a Uyghur exile leader.
Imin Turdi said that he and his brother did not participate in any Uyghur protests on July 5, 2009 and denied any knowledge of the violence that ensued.
Imin Turdi said that all key roads in Urumqi were closed on that day and that they had put up in a restaurant that night before returning to their motel the next morning.
He said he and all other Uyghurs staying in the motel were detained by police while his brother could have been taken into custody while out shopping.
When he was taken to the Awat prison, a police officer asked him whether he had seen his brother, Imin Turdi recollected.
"Is he here?," he asked the officer in return. "The officer appeared shocked and told me, 'Don't ask us this question again,'" he said.
Qasim Turdi said that when Imin Turdi was sent home after four months in jail, police and Communist Party officials assured them that Enver Turdi would soon return home.
"That day, when the police chief and party secretary of our township brought my youngest brother Imin Turdi to our home, they said that Enver Turdi was being detained in Urumqi because he had witnessed 'something' and that he would be released after a few months."
“They told us, 'Don't worry about him and don't go anywhere searching for him, and we will inform you as soon as the investigation is done,’" Qasim Turdi said.
He said his mother had gone to meet county and other officials over the next two years to seek her son's release and that they had asked her to be patient.
"In the third year, the officials in the county in a complete turnaround told my mother, 'We don't know anything about Enver Turdi's situation.’"
When the family accused them of lying, Qasim Turdi quoted the deputy Communist Party secretary of Awat county Ahmet Rahman, who was in charge of law and politics, as saying, "You can sue me over what I said before."
"My mother died six months ago because of the fate that befell her son," Qasim Turdi said.
After her death, he began another round of frantic searches for his brother at the prefecture level and to his astonishment, Aksu officials told him that there were no records of Enver Turdi.
In June, Qasim Turdi went to Urumqi and raised the issue with authorities at the regional level and received a similar response.
"This is the first time I'm hearing about this case," he quoted a senior police officer as telling him. "You have to go back home and give us some time for investigation, and we will call you back soon."
Enver Turdi left his pregnant wife and daughter when he disappeared in 2009. Now his wife and two daughters, aged seven and three years, live in Aybagh town in Awat county.
Qasim Turdi said he wonders whether justice is eluding his family "because we are just farmers and we are powerless and helpless."
"As a last resort, I thought it is better to go to the media."
Reported by Shohret Hoshur for RFA's Uyghur Service. Translated by Shohret Hoshur. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai