The Institute for Strategic Policy – based in Canberra, Australia – said Friday that the Chinese authorities destroyed thousands of mosques in Xinjiang (northwest of the country).
In the latest report on widespread human rights violations in the region, the institute added that about 16,000 mosques were destroyed or damaged, and the institute based its report on satellite images that documented hundreds of holy sites, and on statistical models.
Most of the destruction occurred in the last three years, and it is believed that 8,500 mosques were completely destroyed, according to the report, which monitored further damage outside the cities of Urumqi and Kashgar.
And many of the mosques that survived the destruction had their domes and minarets removed, according to an investigation that estimated that fewer than 15,500 mosques – whether intact or damaged – still exist throughout Xinjiang.
If the information is correct, the number of Muslim places of worship would be the lowest in the region since the decade of national unrest fueled by the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s.
By comparison, the Christian churches and Buddhist temples in the region, which were covered by the Research Center investigation, were not destroyed or damaged.
A third of the sites were destroyed
The center said that about a third of the important Islamic sites in Xinjiang – including shrines, cemeteries and religious pilgrimage routes – were leveled.
An investigation conducted by the French Press Agency last year found that dozens of graves were destroyed in the area. As a result, human remains and crushed burial stones were scattered throughout the sites.
China insists that the people of Xinjiang enjoy complete religious freedom. A foreign ministry spokesman said last week that there are about 24,000 mosques in Xinjiang, a number that “exceeds those in many Islamic countries” relative to the number of individuals.
Friday’s report comes the day after the institute revealed that it had detected a network of detention centers in the region that far exceeds previous estimates.
Rights groups say that more than a million Uighurs and other Muslims – most of whom are Turkic speakers – are being held in camps across the region, and people are also being forced to abandon their traditions, including religious ones.
But China responds by saying its camps are vocational training centers, which are necessary to combat poverty and extremism. Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Weinbin categorically denied the existence of “concentration camps” in Xinjiang, and questioned the “reliability” of the Strategic Policy Institute report.