Around 16,000 mosques were destroyed by China in the country’s northwestern Xinjiang province, according to a report stated by a leading Australian think tank. Based on satellite imagery, documenting hundreds of sacred sites and statistical modeling, the Australian Strategic Policy Institute reports that around 16,000 mosques have been destroyed or damaged in recent years.
Rights groups say more than one million Uighurs and other mostly Muslim Turkic-speaking people have been incarcerated in camps across the northwestern territory, with residents pressured to give up traditional and religious activities. Most of the destruction had taken place in the last three years and an estimated 8,500 mosques had been completely destroyed, the report said, with more damage outside the urban centers of Urumqi and Kashgar.
The think tank said the Chinese government claims that there were more than 24,000 mosques in Xinjiang and that it was committed to protecting and respecting religious beliefs were not supported by the findings and estimated that fewer than 15,000 mosques remained standing – with more than half of those damaged to some extent.
“This is the lowest number since the Cultural Revolution, when fewer than 3,000 mosques remained,” the report said.
China has faced consistent accusations – backed by mounting evidence – of mass human rights abuses in Xinjiang, including the internment of more than a million Uighurs and Turkic Muslims in detention camps, the existence of which it initially denied before claiming they were training and re-education centres. The camps and other accusations of abuse, forced labour, forced sterilisation of women, mass surveillance and restrictions on religious and cultural beliefs have been labelled as cultural genocide by observers.
Beijing strenuously denies the accusations and says its policies in Xinjiang are to counter terrorism and religious extremism, and that its labor programs are to alleviate poverty and are not forced.
The ASPI report said: “Alongside other coercive efforts to re-engineer Uighur social and cultural life by transforming or eliminating Uighurs’ language, music, homes, and even diets, the Chinese government’s policies are actively erasing and altering key elements of their tangible cultural heritage.”