When Aiziheer Ainiwaer talks about his father, Ainiwa Niyazi, he paints him as a comedian and the joker of his friendship group. He describes how the 57-year-old teacher always had the room in stitches with his impersonations of famous pop stars. But at home, the father-of-two would be more serious. “My father constantly used to tell us we should study and be well educated,” says Aiziheer. Throughout Aiziheer’s childhood, that mantra resulted in regular trips to the local bookshop, where his father would wait while he chose an armful of books.
Ainiwa is one of around 11 million Turkic speaking Uyghurs, a Muslim ethnic group living in the troubled Xinjiang province of Western China. Chinese Communist Party (CCP) members are encouraged to forgo their religious beliefs, and although Ainiwa was born a Muslim, “he never practiced… never prayed,” Aiziheer says. “He never said anything against the government, he was always very loyal”. By the time Ainiwa went missing, he’d been a member of the party for 30 years
But loyalty wasn’t enough to spare Ainiwa from China’s crackdown on Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities. Human rights groups estimate that between one and three million people are being detained right now in a dystopian network of “re-education” camps. In April 2018, Ainiwa became one of them. [Continue reading…]