The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has allegedly torn down around 16,000 mosques in China’s northwestern region of Xinjiang, an Australian think tank said in a report published on Thursday.
In 2017, the CCP cracked down on Xinjiang’s native ethnic Uyghurs, long oppressed in the region by the ruling ethnic Han Chinese. The Communist Party began building detention camps to detain Turkic-speaking Uyghurs for defying Han cultural assimilation pushed by the Party through “extremist behavior,” such as practicing their Muslim faith. Human rights groups estimate that the Communist Party has detained one to three million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang’s camps over the past few years.
Thursday’s study alleges that the Chinese government has furthered its campaign to eradicate Muslim Uyghur culture in the region, viewed as a threat to the officially atheist Communist Party, by demolishing thousands of mosques.
“[A]pproximately 16,000 mosques in Xinjiang (65 percent of the total) have been destroyed or damaged as a result of government policies, mostly since 2017,” the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) said in its report, based on satellite imagery of the region.
“An estimated 8,500 have been demolished outright, and, for the most part, the land on which those razed mosques once sat remains vacant. A further 30 percent of important Islamic sacred sites (shrines, cemeteries and pilgrimage routes, including many protected under Chinese law) have been demolished across Xinjiang, mostly since 2017, and an additional 28 percent have been damaged or altered in some way,” according to ASPI. Mosques spared demolition had their domes and minarets removed.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin dismissed the report as “slanderous rumors” when asked about its findings at a regular press conference on Friday.
“If we look at the numbers, there are more than 24,000 mosques in Xinjiang, which is over ten times more than in the U.S.. It means there is a mosque for every 530 Muslims in Xinjiang, which is more mosques per capita than many Muslim countries,” Wang said.
Xinjiang is home to roughly ten million Uyghurs, who are predominantly Sunni Muslims.