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Report from the UHRP: “Demolishing Faith: The Destruction and Desecration of Uyghur Mosques and Shrines”

The following is taken from an Uyghur Human Rights Project report on October 11, 2020. Contact: Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP) Tel: (202) 478-1920 Fax: (202) 478-1910

“The Chinese government’s current crackdown in the Uyghur region is aimed at eliminating Uyghur ethnocultural identity and assimilating them into an undifferentiated “Chinese” identity. As one of the cornerstones of their identity, Uyghurs’ Islamic faith has been a major target of this campaign, resulting in many Uyghurs being sent to the network of concentration camps.

This campaign has also taken the form of eradicating tangible signs of the region’s Islamic identity from the physical landscape. This has involved the whole or partial demolition of an unprecedented number of mosques, including several historically significant buildings. The destruction of mosques in the Uyghur homeland is nothing new; during the Cultural Revolution many were targeted in campaigns against the “Four Olds,” while more recently redevelopment campaigns such as that in Kashgar in 2009 have leveled mosques and the neighborhoods around them.

“The lead researcher and primary author of this report is Bahram Sintash, who for the past year has been documenting this systematic destruction, providing valuable information for the media and human rights activists. By speaking to individuals who have recently left the region and analyzing satellite imagery, Mr. Sintash has compiled a list of mosques which have been confirmed or are suspected to have been demolished in the recent campaign. Mr. Sintash has discovered evidence that over 100 mosques have been fully destroyed or have had an architectural element removed. In addition, the destruction of small village and neighborhood mosques leaves those larger mosques that have been allowed to remain standing easier to monitor and control by the authorities. The report provides case studies of the fate of 11 mosques and religious sites, including photographs, satellite imagery, and testimony from local residents.

The accelerated campaign of mosque demolition began in 2016, at the same time as the large scale detentions of Uyghurs and other Turkic peoples. Termed the “Mosque Rectification Program,” and undertaken with the justification of unsafe construction, the Chinese state destroyed thousands of mosques, as many as 5,000 over the course of three months according to a Radio Free Asia (RFA) report. A survey of 100 religious sites conducted by the Guardian and Bellingcat found that 31 mosques and two shrines were damaged between 2016 and 2018, with 15 completely demolished as well as a further nine mosques which could not be confirmed by their team as demolished.3 Agence France-Presse (AFP ) worked with Earthrise Alliance and confirmed 30 mosques and religious sites had been demolished and six more had their Islamic architectural features removed.

The head of the Ethnic and Religious Affairs Committee in Kashgar told RFA in 2016 that 70% of the mosques in the city had been demolished “because there were more than enough mosques and some were unnecessary,” contradicting the official line that the demolition campaign was motivated by issues of structural safety.

Read the full report here.

In collaboration with UHRP, Save Uyghur is helping to increase access to their reports.

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