In the last two years, more than a hundred Uighur graveyards have been destroyed by China, a move described by human rights group as an escalation of Beijing’s campaign to eradicate the Muslim minority’s culture.
Hundreds of satellite images analysed by CNN (click above image) showed burial sites in western Xinjiang province have been wiped out, with some turned into car parks and playgrounds.
The US broadcast network found the majority of the cemeteries, where generations of Uighurs had been buried, were destroyed over the last two years.
Aziz Isa Elkun, a Uighur poet who fled the region more than 20 years ago and now lives in London, said he had “visited” his father’s grave on Google Earth for nearly two years after he died. But one day an updated satellite image showed the cemetery had been replaced with a field.
“I had no idea what happened,” he told CNN. “I was completely in shock.”
China did not deny destroying the cemeteries, and at least one official notice said one of the burial sites been relocated “to meet the demand of city planning and promote construction”.
A spokesperson for Beijing told CNN: “Governments … in Xinjiang fully respect and guarantee the freedom of all ethnic groups … to choose cemeteries, and funeral and burial methods.”
Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch, told The Independent: “Authorities in Beijing and Urumqi don’t seem content tormenting Turkic Muslims alive today – it appears their hostility to that community also extends to the dead.
“Trying to justify the destruction of cultural property on the grounds of fighting terrorism or urban planning fools no one – instead it reinforces the urgent need for an independent international investigation into gross human rights violations across the region.”
Last year, AFP reporters who visited some of the destroyed burial grounds which had been identified from satellite images analysed by Earthwise Alliance described seeing unearthed bones which independent forensic experts said were human remains.
Western countries and human rights groups have expressed their concern over reports China has detained up to two million people, mostly Uighur Muslims, since a purported counterterrorism campaign began in Xinjiang in 2017.
China has insisted it is running what it calls “vocational training” centres to combat extremism in the region.
However, former detainees have alleged inmates are subjected to torture, medical experiments and gang rape. (Source: Independent UK)