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China denies accusations of destroying mosques in Xinjiang

The Chinese Foreign Ministry denied allegations by an Australian research institute that it destroyed thousands of mosques in Xinjiang, western China, and said that there are more than 24,000 mosques, “which is a greater number than the number of mosques in many Islamic countries.”

The Australian Strategic Policy Institute released a report on Thursday that estimated that nearly 16,000 mosques had been destroyed or damaged in Xinjiang, most of them since 2017, due to Chinese government policies.

These estimates were made using satellite imagery and were based on a sample of 900 religious sites prior to 2017, including mosques, shrines and holy sites.

“The Chinese government has launched an organized and deliberate campaign to reformulate the cultural heritage of the Uyghur Autonomous Region in Xinjiang, in order to make those indigenous cultural traditions subordinate to the Chinese nation,” the institute’s report said.

“Besides other coercive efforts to reshape the social and cultural life of Uighurs by changing or eliminating their language, music, homes, and even their diets, the Chinese government’s policies are erasing and effectively changing key elements of their tangible cultural heritage,” he added.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin described the report at a press conference on Friday as “nothing more than malicious rumors.”

Wang said the Australian Strategic Policy Institute had received funds from abroad “to support fabricating lies against China.”

“We look at the numbers. There are more than 24,000 mosques in Xinjiang, which is more than 10 times the number in the United States,” he added.

“This means that there is a mosque for every 530 Muslims in Xinjiang, which is the number of mosques in relation to the number of individuals far more than many Muslim countries,” he said.

China is facing scrutiny over its treatment of Uighur Muslims and allegations of forced labor in Xinjiang, as the United Nations cited credible reports saying that one million Muslims held in camps have been forced to work.

China denies mistreatment of Uighurs, and says these camps are vocational training centers necessary to tackle extremism.

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