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Demolishing Faith: The Destruction and Desecration of Uyghur Mosques and Shrines

Demolishing Faith: The Destruction and Desecration of Uyghur Mosques and Shrines

Uyghur Human Rights Project, October 28, 2019

UHRP – A new report presents evidence of the complete or partial destruction of over 100 mosques by the Chinese government. Researcher Bahram Sintash and the Uyghur Human Rights Project cross-reference satellite imagery, photographs, and witness testimony to document the Chinese government’s campaign to wipe out the physical sites of Uyghur Islamic practice. The report provides detailed case studies of the fate of 11 mosques and religious sites, including cemeteries, shrines, domes, and minarets.

As one of the cornerstones of their identity, Uyghurs’ Islamic faith has been a major target of the Chinese government’s campaign to eliminate the Uyghur ethno-cultural identity. 

“The evidence I found clearly shows China’s mass destruction of Uyghur Islamic heritage. This was carried out aggressively in mid-level cities, townships and villages. According to my investigation, many large and historic mosques were demolished in small cities like Hotan, Keriya, Kargilik, Artush and Guma. In just the small city of Artush, about 50 miles from Kashgar, I learned of the destruction of four large mosques,” said Mr. Sintash.

He added: “Muslims believe mosques to be God’s home and where Muslims feel God’s mercy and themselves close to God. Mosques are where people can go to be with others and feel part of the Muslim community… Without mosques, Muslims become religiously homeless in their homeland.”

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. 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. Agence France-Presse worked with Earthrise Alliance and confirmed 30 mosques and religious sites had been demolished and six more had their Islamic architectural features removed.

Mr. Sintash fears that if the authorities successfully eliminate mosques and buildings with traditional Uyghur elements, they will have transformed Uyghur towns and villages into places undifferentiated from inner Chinese provinces, which in turn will encourage further Chinese in-migration. In addition to the destruction of religious sites, Mr. Sintash has found evidence of the destruction of traditional Uyghur neighborhoods in cities around the region, an issue UHRP first reported in 2012. Uyghurs displaced from their neighborhoods will be forced into new developments on the margins, with even more intrusive and complete surveillance and control.

“We are proud to present Bahram Sintash’s important research documenting the destruction and desecration of mosques, cemeteries, and shrines. His work should leave no one in doubt about the Chinese government’s goals regarding the future of the Uyghur people. The step-by-step erasure of Uyghur sacred places and the physical symbols of Uyghur culture is a clear indicator of genocidal intent,” said UHRP Director Omer Kanat. “These demolitions contravene international human rights law and are a permanent loss to the heritage of humanity. UNESCO and concerned governments have a responsibility to end this systematic destruction of a people and their faith.”

Mr. Sintash will present his report at an event co-hosted by the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington, DC on October 29, 2019. For details of the event see this link.

The report, Demolishing Faith: The Destruction and Desecration of Uyghur Mosques and Shrines, can downloaded here.