The Chinese government has expanded its campaign of closing mosques to regions other than Xinjiang, where for years it has been blamed for persecuting Muslim minorities, Human Rights Watch said in a report released yesterday.
Authorities have closed mosques in the northern Ningxia region as well as Gansu Province, which are home to large populations of Hui Muslims, as part of a process known officially as “consolidation,” said the report, which draws on public documents, satellite images and witness testimonies.
Local authorities also have been removing architectural features of mosques to make them look more “Chinese,” part of a campaign by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to tighten control over religion and reduce the risk of possible challenges to its rule, it said.
Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) in 2016 called for the “Sinicization” of religions, initiating a crackdown that has largely concentrated on the western region of Xinjiang, home to more than 11 million Uighurs and other Muslim minorities.
A UN report last year found that China might have committed “crimes against humanity” in Xinjiang, including through its construction of a network of extrajudicial internment camps believed to have held at least 1 million Uighurs, Huis, Kazakhs and Kyrgyzs.
Chinese authorities have decommissioned, closed down, demolished or converted mosques for secular use in regions outside Xinjiang as part of a campaign aimed at cracking down on religious expression, Human Rights Watch said.
The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not immediately answer faxed questions seeking comment on the report and its official policies toward Muslim minorities.
One of the first known references to “mosque consolidation” appears in an internal CCP document from April 2018 that was leaked to US media as part of a trove of documents known as the “Xinjiang Papers.”
The file instructed state agencies throughout the country to “strengthen the standardized management of the construction, renovation and expansion of Islamic religious venues” and stressed that “there should not be newly built Islamic venues” to “compress the overall number” of mosques.
“The Chinese government is not ‘consolidating’ mosques as it claims, but closing many down in violation of religious freedom,” said Maya Wang (王松蓮), acting China director at Human Rights Watch. “The Chinese government’s closure, destruction and repurposing of mosques is part of a systematic effort to curb the practice of Islam in China.”
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