A Uyghur who went “missing” in the aftermath of deadly ethnic violence in China’s troubled Xinjiang region was a card-carrying member of the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP), family members said, showing that even those most loyal to the government were targeted by authorities during the ensuing crackdown.
Abdugheni Eziz had entered the party more than a decade before the clashes between majority Han Chinese and mostly Muslim Uyghurs in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region’s capital Urumqi on July 5, 2009, which left some 200 people dead and 1,700, injured according to state media.
Membership to the CCP is a common means for Uyghurs—who claim to have long suffered ethnic discrimination, oppressive religious controls, and continued poverty and joblessness—to show their loyalty to the Chinese government and can often lead to positions of power in politics or business.
It can also assuage official fears of complicity in “terrorist activities” against the state, which Beijing often accuses Uyghurs of who have pushed for true autonomy in Xinjiang through peaceful protest.
Abdugheni Eziz’s sibling, Rozimemet Eziz, a 40-year-old middle school teacher, said his brother had climbed in the ranks politically since joining the party in the 1990s.
“My brother entered the party in 1997 and he had been appointed party secretary of the CCP subcommittee in our village,” he said.
A successful life
Abdugheni Eziz was one of the few to graduate from high school in his home village in Hotan (in Chinese, Hetian) prefecture’s Qaraqash (in Chinese, Moyu) county, due to the area’s poor financial and educational resources.
He moved to Urumqi in 2006 after saving the money he made from serving three years as party secretary in his village and had set up a real estate company named Yang Guangcheng.
In 2009, when ethnic tension led to the disruption of business and services in the city, Abdugheni Eziz had a vested interest in seeing the situation return to normal, his brother said.
He even volunteered to serve watermelon and spring water to the People’s Armed Police when they took up positions at Wuqiao Bridge in downtown Urumqi, earning him criticism from his fellow Uyghur residents who called him a traitor, Rozimemet Eziz said.
Nonetheless, weeks after authorities had quelled the ethnic riots, Abdugheni Eziz was taken from his home by police along with his roommate, Mewlan Zeridin, at 2:00 a.m. on July 31 to an unknown location for questioning, Rozimemet Eziz wrote in letters sent to officials. He was 39 years old.
“His new [Volkswagen] Santana car with the license plate B06987 and 2,600 yuan [U.S. $400 in cash were also taken,” he wrote.
“Since that day, we’ve received no sign of our brother’s existence. The car and cash were never found either.”
Searching for answers
Abdugheni Eziz’s roommate, Mewlan Zeridin, was released at the end of December that year, but Rozimemet Eziz said that the whereabouts of his brother are still unknown today, despite his having traveled more than 20 times to the capital to speak with officials.
“We never expected our brother to be disappeared,” Rozimemet Eziz wrote in his letter.
“We expected that he would be released the next day after the investigation because of his political background and lack of a criminal record. We assumed that, as a Party member, his loyalty to the state was unquestioned.”
Rozimemet Eziz said that he had visited a number of government offices, including the Xinjiang Regional Public Security Department, Urumqi City Public Security Bureau, Urumqi Law and Politics Committee, Yangzijiang Police Station, and Xihaba Police Station, but had only been told to “wait.”
Abdugheni Eziz’s mother died on Oct. 24, 2010, which Rozimemet Eziz attributed to grief over her son’s disappearance in his letter to officials, seeking his brother’s whereabouts.
The letter, written in Mandarin Chinese, was sent to the top three leaders of China’s central government: President Hu Jintao, Premier Wen Jiabao, and Secretary of the CCP Central Political and Legislative Committee Zhou Yongkang, as well as to Xinjiang party chief Zhang Chunxian and Xinjiang chairman Nur Bekri.
None of the leaders have responded to his letter.
Sending inquiries in the form of letters about missing loved ones or over petitioning concerns is the most common way of seeking justice in China because the practice is traditionally less expensive and more safe than traveling to visit central authorities in person, but the letters seldom receive a response.
Patigul Ghulam, whose son Imamemet Eli disappeared after the 2009 Urumqi riots and is believed to have died from torture in jail, said she had sent 18 letters to top leaders in Beijing and 14 letters to top officials in Xinjiang, asking about the situation of her son.
“All the receipts are in my hand as we speak. I have spent a total of 840 yuan [U.S. $130] for stamps—equal to one and a half months of salary for my second son, who is working as company security guard,” she told RFA last month.
“We have heard that Zhang Chunxian answers the inquiries of those who visit his website and post their concerns there, but this has not worked in our case. My daughter has repeatedly sent messages to his site, but they are quickly deleted by the administrator.”
Rozimemet Eziz said that, much like other family members of loved ones missing in the aftermath of the July 5, 2009 violence, he only hopes to learn whether his brother is still alive.
Uyghur groups in exile say that some 10,000 Uyghurs have been reported missing since the ethnic riots.
“I would accept the fate of my brother without question, even if he was executed or given a lifetime jail sentence through the courts,” he said.
“I just want to know what happened to him.”
Reported by Shohret Hoshur for RFA’s Uyghur service. Translated by Shohret Hoshur. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.