According to a survey conducted by the British newspaper The Guardian and the Bellingcat news site, a number of Islamic religious sites in the region have been completely or partially destroyed since 2016.
Using satellite imagery to examine 91 different religious sites in the region, an autonomous territory in northwestern China, the survey revealed that 31 mosques and two major shrines suffered significant structural damage during last three years. Nearly half of these 33 sites were “completely or nearly destroyed.”
The investigation also revealed that nine buildings that served as mosques but did not have the typical architectural features of these religious sites were also destroyed.
Each of the sites analyzed was identified by former residents, researchers and population-funded mapping tools.
The Yutian Aitika Mosque near Hotan, just north of the China-Pakistan border, was also reportedly demolished. The mosque was 1,200 years old and was a popular site for local residents during religious holidays.
The Kargilik Mosque, one of the largest mosques in the region, and the Imam Asim complex were also reportedly destroyed.
Xinjiang Province is home to many ethnic minority groups, including Turkish Uyghurs. In addition to the Uyghurs, other Turkish Muslim groups, such as the Kazakhs and Kyrgyz, have reportedly been persecuted in China.
According to figures from the US State Department, between 800,000 and 2 million people belonging to Muslim minorities are detained in what the Chinese government describes as “re-education camps.”
Although Beijing has indicated that this practice is used to combat terrorism, the camps have been widely criticized, and the results of the research are likely to increase the pressure.
China has already been accused of destroying religious buildings as part of a calculated attempt to uproot Muslim culture in the region. “The images of Imam Asim in ruins are quite shocking. For the most dedicated pilgrims, they would be heartbreaking, “said Rian Thum, historian of Islam at the University of Nottingham, Guardian.
“The Uighurs are more than convinced that the Chinese state wants to uproot their culture and break their ties with the land,” he added.
However, Beijing refuted these claims. The Chinese Foreign Ministry insisted that freedom of religion remains a pillar of Chinese society.
“China is practicing religious freedom and is strongly opposed to religious extremist thinking,” spokesman Geng Shuang told the Guardian.