AT LEAST 16,000 mosques have been destroyed in the western region of Xinjiang, in China, where the minority Uighur Muslim population has been subject to forced “re-education” in detention camps (News, 14 August).
The widespread destruction and damage to mosques and sacred sites for Muslims is described in a report by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, Cultural Erasure, which has also identified an expansion in the number of detention centres, despite claims by the Chinese government that these centres were being scaled back.
The Institute believes that there are now 380 suspected detention facilities: 40 per cent more than previously estimated.
It examined satellite imagery of the area, which revealed that one in three mosques in the region had been destroyed or damaged since 2017, despite the Chinese government’s insistence that there were 24,000 mosques in the region, and that it was committed to protecting religious freedom.
The Bishop of St Albans, Dr Alan Smith, has called for the international community to act urgently in response to the findings, and has added his voice to those calling for the 2022 Winter Olympics not to be held in Beijing.
Dr Smith said: “The Australian research suggesting that 65 per cent of mosques in the Xingjiang Autonomous Uighur region have been damaged or destroyed is yet more evidence of the denial of the fundamental rights of this beleaguered people.
“This denial of their freedom to manifest their religion sits alongside growing evidence of serial oppression, through forced sterilisation, and the suppression of birth rates, incarceration in mass-detention facilities, and the harrowing reports of industrial organ-harvesting.
“The Uighur’s plight can no longer be ignored by nations who profess a belief in human rights. I have this week called on Her Majesty’s Government, and the wider international community, to pressure the International Olympic Committee to review their decision to hold the 2022 Winter Olympic Games in Beijing. Rather than looking like the Games are colluding with breaches of human rights, they should be used as a tool to uphold them, as the framers of modern Olympism envisaged even in the late 19th century.”
The Institute’s report estimates that 8500 mosques have been demolished outright in the past three years, and a further 30 per cent of important Islamic sacred sites — including shrines, cemeteries, and pilgrimage routes, many of which are protected under Chinese law — have been demolished in Xinjiang, including the Ordam Mazar, a pilgrimage site since the tenth century.
The Institute now says that the region has fewer mosques than at any time since the Cultural Revolution. Those that have been demolished have been left as empty sites, or some have been turned into car parks or roads.
The report says: “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.”
It has called on governments to press UNESCO and other conservation bodies to respond to the destruction of the Uighur culture in Xinjiang, as well as to put pressure on the Chinese government by boycotting the 2022 Olympics.