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Chinese government systematically destroyed 16000 mosques in Xinjiang since 2017, finds Australian study using satellite imagery

The mosques that were undamaged were found to have no existing Islamic architectural features, and therefore exempted from the 'rectification' campaign.

The Chinese regime has destroyed around 16,000 mosques in the Xinjiang province since 2017, reported the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI). The Australia-based think-thank made the estimate using satellite imagery and statistical modelling.

As per the report, around 8500 mosques have been completely destroyed and the land on which the mosques were built lay vacant. The think tank added that while 28% mosques have been damaged or altered in some form, a whopping 30% of ‘important Islamic sites’, including pilgrimage routes, shrines and cemeteries, have been destroyed in Xinjiang. As per estimates, one of three mosques has been demolished since 2017.

Chinese government claims existence of 24000 mosques

The think tank found that contrary to the claims of the Chinese government of the existence of over 24,000 mosques, less than 15,5000 mosques exist in Xinjiang province today. Interestingly, around 7500 of the existing mosques have been damaged to some extent. ASPI emphasised that while several mosques were renovated between 2012-2016, there seems to be a policy change to ‘rectify’ things since 2017.

Decline in the number of mosques and increase in damaged Islamic sites (Image Courtesy: Australian Strategic Policy Institute)

ASPI has estimated that roughly 8,450 mosques were destroyed across Xinjiang, and a further estimated 7,550 mosques have been damaged or ‘rectified’ to remove Islamic-style architecture and symbols. It may be noted that Cultural destruction often masquerades as restoration or renovation work in Xinjiang. 

Employing satellite imagery, the think tank created a new data-set of mosques that existed before 2017. It discovered the co-ordinates of over 900 Islamic sites before 2017. using current imagery, they categorised the mosques as undamaged, slightly damaged, significantly damaged and destroyed. Through the analysis, they were able to determine visible changes in the structure of the Islamic sites.

The organisation also found that besides mosques, Chinese Government authorities have also desecrated important sacred shrines, cemeteries and pilgrimage sites. Their data and analysis suggest that 30% of those sacred sites have been demolished, most of them. An additional 27.8% have been damaged in some way. In total, 17.4% of sites protected under Chinese law have been destroyed, and 61.8% of unprotected sites have been damaged or destroyed. 

Mosques converted into cafe-bars and public toilets

The think tank found a pattern in which the demolition of the mosques was conducted. Areas with low tourist potential, such as Urumqi had lower rates of demolition. The mosques that were undamaged were found to have no existing Islamic architectural features, and therefore exempted from the ‘rectification’ campaign. Many mosques had also been converted to civic and commercial spaces like cafe-bars and public toilets. At the same time, 75% of existing mosques were either padlocked or had no visitors.

Red represents completely demolished mosques whereas orange circles represent destroyed ones (Image Courtesy: ASPI)

The report stated that more than a million Uyghurs have been placed in concentration camps in the northwestern territory and are being coerced to desert their religious practices. The policy of ‘cultural assimilation’ and ‘inter-ethnic mingling’ has been mainstreamed under the current Chinese Premier Xi Jinping. The think tank observed that the renovation work on mosques stopped after his Xi’s speech in April 2016 in which he advocated ‘sinicisation of Chinese religion.’

Chinese whitepaper reveals persecution of Uyghur Muslims

In a whitepaper published by the State Council Information Office, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has insinuated that the Uyghur Muslims are responsible for what China is doing to them. In a startling claim, China has revealed that it has placed over 1.29 million people in re-education camps between 2014 and 2019 in the Uyghur-dominated province of Xinjiang. The whitepaper claimed that Uyghur Muslims were ‘terrorists’ who believed in the ‘afterlife’ and rejected modern science owing to religious dogmatism.

The Chinese regime, keeping the rise of radical Islam in mind, justified, “Terrorists, separatists and religious extremists have long preached that “the afterlife is fated” and that “religious teachings are superior to state laws”, inciting the public to resist learning the standard spoken and written the Chinese language, reject modern science, and refuse to improve their vocational skills, economic conditions, and the ability to better their own lives.”

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Staff reporter at OpIndia

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