Thousands of mosques in Xinjiang have been damaged or destroyed in just three years, leaving fewer in the region than at any time since China’s Cultural Revolution, says a study by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI).
The revelations are contained in an expansive data project by the ASPI which used satellite imagery and on-the-ground reporting to map the extensive and continuing construction of detention camps and destruction of cultural and religious sites in Xinjiang.
The think tank said Chinese government claims there were more than 24,000 mosques in Xinjiang and that it was committed to protecting and respecting religious beliefs.
But the claims 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.
It found around two-thirds of the area’s mosques were affected, and about 50% of protected cultural sites had been damaged or destroyed, including the total destruction of Ordammazar (shrine), an ancient site of pilgrimage dating back to the 10th century.
Since 2017, an estimated 30% of mosques had been demolished, and another 30% damaged in some way, including the removal of architectural features such as minarets or domes, the report said.
While the majority of sites remained as empty lots, others were turned into roads and car parks or converted for agricultural use.
Some were razed to the ground and rebuilt at a fraction of their former size, including Kashgar’s Grand Mosque, built in 1540 and granted the second-highest level of historic protection by Chinese authorities.
Areas that received large numbers of tourists, including the capital, Urumqi, and the city of Kashgar, were outliers, with little destruction recorded, but ASPI said reports from visitors to the cities suggested the majority of mosques were padlocked or had been converted to other uses.
ASPI said it compared recent satellite images with the precise coordinates of more than 900 officially registered religious sites which were recorded prior to the 2017 crackdown, then used sample-based methodology to make “statistically robust estimates” cross-referenced with census data.
Beijing 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 the camps was initially denied by Beijing 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 and Chinese oppression of Muslim minorities.
Beijing strenuously denies the accusations and says its policies in Xinjiang are to counter terrorism and religious extremism, and that its labour programmes are to alleviate poverty and are not forced. (Source: The Guardian)