Demolishing Faith: The Destruction and Desecration of Uyghur Mosques and ShrinesOctober 01, 2019
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 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. 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.
The imams who oversee these mosques have also been targeted. The goal appears to be to permanently remove religious leaders from society, and not “re-educate” them as official propaganda suggests. Gene Bunin, who administers the Xinjiang Victims Database (www.shahit.biz), points out that imams are being given disproportionately long prison sentences, making up 13% of all victims in the database, but 29% of those formally sentenced to prison instead of the extrajudicial camps system. He points to testimonies in the database that corroborate the harsh sentences given to imams.