Authorities in China have demolished thousands of mosques in Xinjiang, an Australian think tank said on 25 September, in the latest report of widespread human rights abuses in the restive region.
Rights groups say China has pushed more than one million Uyghurs and other mostly Muslim Turkic-speaking people to concentration camps across the northwestern territory. China pressures residents to give up traditional and religious activities, the report says.
Local administrations in China destroyed or damaged around 16,000 mosques, according to the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) report. It is based on satellite imagery documenting hundreds of sacred sites and statistical modelling.
Much of the destruction had taken place in the last three years. China destroyed completely an estimated 8,500 mosques, the report said. One witnesses more damage outside the urban centres of Urumqi and Kashgar.
The management bodies of many mosques that escaped demolition had their domes and minarets removed. According to the research, fewer than 15,500 Islamic structures remain intact. Damaged mosques are left standing around Xinjiang.
If the report is correct, it would be the lowest number of Muslim places of worship in the region since the decade of national upheaval sparked by the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s.
By contrast, the think tank did not study any of the Christian churches and Buddhist temples in Xinjiang.
ASPI said nearly a third of major Islamic sacred sites in Xinjiang — like shrines, cemeteries and pilgrimage routes — had been razed.
An AFP investigation last year found that China had destroyed dozens of cemeteries in the region too. They left scattered across the land human remains and bricks from broken tombs.
China insists that residents of Xinjiang enjoy full religious freedom.
Asked about the research on 25 September, the foreign ministry of China said the research institute had “no academic credibility” and was producing “anti-China reports and anti-China lies”.
Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said there were about 24,000 mosques in the region.
“Xinjiang’s total number of mosques is more than ten times the number in the US, and the average number of mosques per Muslim person is higher than in some Muslim countries,” Wang told a regular press briefing.
The 25 September report comes a day after ASPI said it had identified a network of detention centres in the region much larger than previous estimates.
Beijing has said its network of camps are vocational training centres, which are necessary for countering poverty and anti-extremism.