By Ahmet Gurhan Kartal
LONDON (AA) – More than two dozen religious sites including mosques in China’s northwestern Xinjiang province have been partly or completely demolished since 2016, a British daily claimed Tuesday.
An article by The Guardian said a joint investigation by the newspaper and the Bellingcat website found new evidence of large-scale mosque razing in the autonomous region where Muslim minorities have long-faced religious repression.
It said the investigation analyzed 91 sites including mosques and shrines via satellite images and 31 of them “suffered significant structural damage between 2016 and 2018".
“Of those, 15 mosques and both shrines appear to have been completely or almost completely razed,” according to the report.
“The rest of the damaged mosques had gatehouses, domes, and minarets removed.”
Nine other locations identified by former residents as mosques also appeared to have been destroyed, it added.
The mass bulldozing drive is part of a state campaign against Uighurs, a Turkic speaking Muslim minority in China.
The destruction of shrines, which were sites of mass pilgrimage, "represent a new form of assault on their culture".
<p>China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang quoted in the article said in a briefing last month that there was “no such situation".</p> <p>“There are more than 20 million Muslims and more than 35,000 mosques in China. The vast majority of believers can freely engage in religious activities according to the law,” Lu said.</p> <p>However, the article says that China passed a five-year plan last January to make Islam compatible with socialism.</p> <p>The Guardian also published satellite images from various religious sites, in which buildings that existed in 2016 are clearly seen as demolished in last two years.
China’s Xinjiang region is home to around 10 million Uighurs. The Turkic Muslim group, which makes up around 45 percent of Xinjiang’s population, has long accused China’s authorities of cultural, religious and economic discrimination.
China stepped up its restrictions on the region in the past two years, banning men from growing beards and women from wearing veils and introducing what many experts see as the world’s most extensive electronic surveillance program, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Up to 1 million people, or about 7 percent of the Muslim population in Xinjiang, have been incarcerated in an expanding network of “political re-education” camps, according to U.S. officials and UN experts.
In its last report released on last September, Human Rights Watch blamed the Chinese government for a “systematic campaign of human rights violations” against Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang.
According to a 117-page report, the Chinese government conducted “mass arbitrary detention, torture and mistreatment” of Uighur Turks in the region.