The reserachers using satellite imagery, have estimated that approximately 16,000 mosques in Xinjiang (65% of the total) have been destroyed or damaged as a result of government policies, mostly since 2017. An estimated 8,500 have been demolished outright. A further 30% of important Islamic sacred sites (shrines, cemeteries and pilgrimage routes, including many protected under Chinese law) have been demolished across Xinjiang, mostly since 2017, and an additional 28% have been damaged or altered in some way.
The report outlines the deliberate erasure of tangible elements of indigenous Uyghur and Islamic culture in Xinjiang appears to be a centrally driven yet locally implemented policy, the ultimate aim of which is the ‘sinicisation of indigenous cultures, and ultimately, the complete ‘transformation’ of the Uyghur community’s thoughts and behaviour.
The report also lists media and non-government organisation reports, which have unearthed individual examples of the deliberate destruction of mosques and culturally significant sites in recent years. The reserachers found out that such destruction is likely to be more widespread than reported, and that an estimated one in three mosques in Xinjiang has been demolished, mostly since 2017.
Interpreting the datasets acquired through satellite images, the reserachers concluded that this equates to roughly 8,450 mosques (±4%) destroyed across Xinjiang, and a further estimated 7,550 mosques (±3.95%) have been damaged or ‘rectified’ to remove Islamic-style architecture and symbols. Cultural destruction often masquerades as restoration or renovation work in Xinjiang.
The report says that mosques across Xinjiang were rebuilt following the Cultural Revolution, and some were significantly renovated between 2012 and 2016, including by the construction of Arab- and Islamic-style domes and minarets. However, immediately after, beginning in 2016, government authorities embarked on a systematic campaign to ‘rectify’ and in many cases outright demolish mosques.
Besides mosques, Chinese Government authorities have also desecrated important sacred shrines, cemeteries and pilgrimage sites. The report provides photographic evidence of how mosques have been redesigned or decreased in size and the same techniques have been applied to cemeteries and other religious places in Xinjiang.
Although other religious minorities weren’t the focus of the report, still the reserachers checked several Christian churches and Buddhist temples across Xinjiang and found that none of those sampled had been damaged or destroyed.