Mosques disappear as China strives to ‘build a beautiful Xinjiang’

The Jiaman mosque within the metropolis of Qira, within the far western Chinese area of Xinjiang, is hidden behind excessive partitions and Communist Party propaganda indicators, leaving passersby with no indication that it’s residence to a non secular website.

In late April, through the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, two ethnic Uyghur ladies sat behind a tiny mesh grate, beneath a surveillance digicam, contained in the compound of what had lengthy been town’s largest place of worship.

Reuters couldn’t set up if the place was at the moment functioning as a mosque.

Within minutes of reporters arriving, 4 males in plain garments confirmed up and took up positions across the website, locking gates to close by residential buildings.

The males advised the reporters it was unlawful to take pictures and to go away.

“There’s no mosque here … there has never been a mosque at this site,” mentioned one of many males in response to a query from Reuters if there was a mosque inside. He declined to establish himself.

Minarets on the constructing’s 4 corners, seen in publicly accessible satellite tv for pc pictures in 2019, have gone. A big blue steel field stood the place the mosque’s central dome had as soon as been. It was not clear if it was a place of worship on the time the satellite tv for pc pictures have been taken.

In latest months, China has stepped up a marketing campaign on state media and with government-arranged excursions to counter the criticism of researchers, rights teams and former Xinjiang residents who say 1000’s of mosques have been focused in a crackdown on the area’s principally Muslim Uyghur individuals.

Officials from Xinjiang and Beijing advised reporters in Beijing that no non secular websites had been forcibly destroyed or restricted and invited them to go to and report.

“Instead, we have taken a series of measures to protect them,” Elijan Anayat, a spokesman for the Xinjiang authorities, mentioned of mosques late final yr.

Foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying mentioned on Wednesday some mosques had been demolished, whereas others had been upgraded and expanded as a part of rural revitalisation however Muslims may practise their faith overtly at residence and in mosques.

Asked about restrictions authorities placed on journalists visiting the world, Hua mentioned reporters had to attempt tougher to “win the trust of the Chinese people” and report objectively.

Reuters visited greater than two dozen mosques throughout seven counties in southwest and central Xinjiang on a 12-day go to throughout Ramadan, which ended on Thursday.

There is a distinction between Beijing’s marketing campaign to defend mosques and spiritual freedom and the fact on the bottom. Most of the mosques that Reuters visited had been partially or fully demolished.

“Life is beautiful”

An unidentified man attempts to prevent the photographer from taking pictures outside the site of the Jiaman Mosque in Qira, Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, China, April 28, 2021.
An unidentified man makes an attempt to forestall the photographer from taking footage outdoors the location of the Jiaman Mosque in Qira, Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, China, April 28, 2021.

China has repeatedly mentioned that Xinjiang faces a severe menace from separatists and spiritual extremists who plot assaults and fire up rigidity between Uyghurs who name the area residence and the ethnic Han, China’s largest ethic group.

A mass crackdown that features a marketing campaign of restrictions on non secular apply and what rights teams describe as the compelled political indoctrination of greater than a million Uyghurs and different Muslims started in earnest in 2017.

China initially denied detaining individuals in detention camps, however has since mentioned they’re vocational coaching centres and that the individuals have “graduated” from them.

The authorities says there are greater than 20,000 mosques in Xinjiang however no detailed knowledge on their standing is out there.

Some functioning mosques have indicators saying congregants should register whereas residents from outdoors the world, foreigners and anybody underneath the age of 18 are banned from stepping into.

Functioning mosques function surveillance cameras and embody Chinese flags and propaganda shows declaring loyalty to the ruling Communist Party.

Visiting reporters have been virtually at all times adopted by plainclothes personnel and warned not to take images.

A Han lady, who mentioned she had moved to town of Hotan six years in the past from central China, mentioned Muslims who wished to pray may accomplish that at residence.

“There are no Muslims like that here anymore,” the girl mentioned, referring to those that used to pray on the mosque. She added: “Life in Xinjiang is beautiful.”

“Ethnic unity”

A Chinese national flag flies outside the former Xinqu Mosque that had its minarets and central dome removed in Changji outside Urumqi, Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, China, May 6, 2021.
A Chinese nationwide flag flies outdoors the previous Xinqu Mosque that had its minarets and central dome eliminated in Changji outdoors Urumqi, Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, China, May 6, 2021.

Some state-sanctioned mosques are proven off to visiting journalists and diplomats, just like the Jiaman Mosque in Hotan.

“Everything is paid for by the party,” mentioned a Hotan official on the mosque on a go to organized for Reuters by town propaganda division.

The official, who glided by the nickname “Ade” however declined to give his full title, mentioned males have been free to pray on the mosque 5 occasions a day, in accordance to Islamic customized.

While reporters have been there, a number of dozen males, most of them aged, got here to pray as nightfall fell. Afterwards, they broke their quick with meals supplied by the native authorities.

The mosque, greater than 170 years outdated, is one in all 4 within the area earmarked as cultural relics, with funds for renovation from the central authorities, the Xinjiang authorities mentioned.

As the mosque’s chief or imam eliminated his sneakers, Ade demonstrated a machine given by the federal government that shrink-wraps sneakers in plastic.

“Now you don’t even need to take your shoes off in the mosque, it’s very convenient,” he mentioned.

Crumbling minarets

Police officers patrol the square in front of Id Kah Mosque in Kashgar, Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, China, May 3, 2021.
Police officers patrol the sq. in entrance of Id Kah Mosque in Kashgar, Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, China, May 3, 2021.

In Changji, about 40 km west of the regional capital, Urumqi, inexperienced and purple minarets of town’s Xinqu Mosque lay damaged beneath a Chinese flag flying over the abandoned constructing’s courtyard.

Reuters analysed satellite tv for pc imagery of 10 mosques in Changji metropolis and visited six of them.

A complete of 31 minarets and 12 inexperienced or gold domes had been eliminated inside a interval of two months after April 2018, in accordance to dated pictures.

At a number of mosques, Islamic structure was changed with Chinese-style roofing. These included Changji’s Tianchi street mosque, whose gold dome and minarets have been eliminated in 2018, in accordance to publicly accessible satellite tv for pc pictures.

The Xinjiang authorities didn’t reply to a request for touch upon the state of mosques within the area.

Researchers on the Australian Strategic Policy Institute estimated in 2020, after a survey of 900 Xinjiang places, that 16,000 mosques had been partially or fully destroyed over the earlier three years.

Signs outdoors the Xinqu Mosque, with the crumbling minarets, mentioned a housing growth would quickly be constructed on the location.

“For ethic unity, build a beautiful Xinjiang,” a signal learn.

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