Important burial grounds are being razed, mosques are being demolished or “de-Islamified”, and a brutal crackdown on anyone deemed “too religious” means that Uyghur Muslims in the region of East Turkestan/Xinjiang are being systematically targeted.
In a shockingly disturbing new report, it has been revealed that the Chinese government has destroyed approximately 16,000 mosques across East Turkestan (known as Xinjiang in Chinese), the northwestern region of China where the state is currently conducting systematic genocide against the Uyghur and other Muslim ethnic minority groups of the region.
Using satellite imagery, the report found that 65% of the mosques of the region have been destroyed or heavily damaged by the Chinese state. 8,500 mosques have reportedly been completely demolished, with the land on which they stood remaining vacant and razed. Around 30% of the territory’s important Islamic sites (which include shrines, cemeteries, and historical pilgrimage routes) have also been demolished since 2017, with an additional 28% heavily damaged or altered in a significant way.
The report estimates that there are currently less than 15,000 mosques in East Turkestan/Xinjiang – and this number is including the more than 7,500 mosques that have been heavily damaged or altered in a significant way to appear less Islamic. This is the lowest number since the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s and 70s, which under the leadership of Chairman of the Communist Party of China Mao Zedong, systematically destroyed all symbols and sites of religious or traditional heritage.
As part of the current Chinese government’s campaign of genocide against the Uyghur Muslims, in addition to the nearly two million civilians held in detention camps across East Turkestan, the Uyghur people’s cultural, religious, and historical heritage sites are being systematically eradicated by China. Important burial grounds are being razed, mosques are being demolished or “de-Islamified”, and a brutal crackdown on anyone deemed “too religious” means that Uyghur Muslims in the region of East Turkestan/Xinjiang are being systematically targeted. Once thrown arbitrarily into the numerous detention camps across the region, many are subject to torture, mass sterilization, mass rape, forced renunciation of their religion, and even death.
The Chinese government claims this is part of their “anti-terror” campaign, stating that their horrifying campaign against Uyghur and other ethnic minority Muslims within the region is because they remain a national threat to state security. The state-sponsored campaign of genocide, however, is in no way justified and is a blatant example of severe human rights violations and arguably should be tried as a crime against humanity.
Frustratingly, the majority of the international community continues to turn a blind eye to the atrocities being conducted in China against the Uyghur Muslims. UNESCO and the International Council on Monument and Sites (ICOMOS) have both remained tellingly silent despite the growing evidence of cultural destruction in East Turkestan. Muslim majority countries have also decided to remain silent while loudly announcing new partnerships with China in lucrative economic and political gains. Most infamously, 37 nations signed a letter in support of China’s “remarkable achievements in the field of human rights” last year – these countries included Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Algeria, Egypt, Pakistan, Somalia, and Sudan.
As China continues to systematically destroy Uyghur lives, cultural heritage, and religious and linguistic identity, the world remains relatively passive while the atrocities continue. Human rights groups and Uyghur activists across the world continue to campaign against China’s ongoing genocide, however, with the power of China’s political and economic leverage, it seems that the majority of the international community will continue to turn a blind eye to the abuses being conducted against Uyghur Muslims.
China’s own Constitution, which states that indigenous communities of East Turkestan/Xinjiang are allowed to preserve their own cultural heritage and religious belief in Articles 4 and 36, is being completely disregarded by the current Chinese regime. The 1984 Law on Regional Ethnic Autonomy, which outlines the autonomous rights of minority communities to protect their own cultural heritage, is also being ignored.
China’s campaign of physical and cultural genocide – seen in the systematic torture and death conducted in the detention camps, mass sterilizations, mass rape, and destruction of cultural and religious heritage sites – is being conducted without any repercussions. As the Uyghur Muslims of East Turkestan (and those who have fled or sought asylum outside of China) continue to suffer under China’s genocide, it remains to be seen when and if China will ever be held to account for these crimes against humanity.