Imam Arrested, Mosque Destroyed, Chinese Communist Crackdown on Faith Everywhere

A mosque with its minaret and central dome removed in Changji, Urumqi, Xinjiang. (May 6, 2021)

The Chinese Communist Party’s human rights abuses against Uighurs and other Muslim minorities in the Xinjiang region continue to draw widespread international attention. With severe torture, forced labor, forced abortions, and rape and sexual assault, Uighurs are being physically tortured and subjected to a “cultural revolution” that is destroying their traditions and beliefs.

The Uighur Human Rights Project said in a report Thursday (May 13) that the Chinese government is trying to cut off the intergenerational transmission of religious knowledge through the mass detention of Uighur and other Turkic Muslim imams in the Xinjiang region.

The report, titled Islam Dispossessed: China’s Persecution of Uyghur Imams and Religious Figures, documents the persecution of Uyghur Imams and religious figures since 1,046 Imams and other religious figures who may have been held in concentration camps or prisons in the Xinjiang region since 2014.

Of these 1,046, 428 were incarcerated. Of the cases for which sentencing information was provided, 96 percent were sentenced to prison terms of five years or more, and 25 percent were sentenced to prison terms of 20 years or more, often on unclear charges. In addition, 202 religious figures were detained in concentration camps.

The Uighur Human Rights Project said this data confirms that hundreds of religious figures have been sentenced to prison terms for their daily religious activities and speech without due process of law.

Imams have been sentenced to more than 15 years in prison for charges such as “teaching others to pray” and “refusing to turn in the Quran for burning,” as well as life sentences for “spreading the faith and organizing people. “The Uyghur Human Rights Project director, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations

Omer Kanat, director of the Uighur Human Rights Project, said “the mass raids on imams reveal the Chinese government’s intentions: to destroy our faith and traditions once and for all. Imams are scholars of the Islamic sect. Kanat believes that the elimination of religious scholars is a weapon to eliminate Islam.”

In addition to the imams, a mosque appears to be the target of a Communist strike. A Reuters reporter visited more than 20 mosques in seven counties in southwestern and central Xinjiang in late April and found that most of them had been partially or completely destroyed. It coincided with this year’s month-long Muslim Ramadan (April 12 to May 12).

According to Reuters, the Chinese government says there are more than 20,000 mosques in Xinjiang, but has no detailed data on their condition. Some of the mosques still in use have signs stating that congregations must register, while citizens outside the region, foreigners and people under the age of 18 are barred from entering. Visiting journalists are almost always tailed by plainclothes officers and warned not to take pictures.

A total of 31 minarets and 12 green or gold domes were removed in the two months after April 2018, according to outdated images (dated images), the report said.

The Islamic architecture of some of these mosques was replaced by Chinese-style roofs, including the Tianchi Road Mosque in Changji City, whose golden domes and minarets were removed in 2018, according to publicly available satellite images.

Researchers from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) estimated in 2020, after surveying 900 sites in Xinjiang, that 16,000 mosques were partially or completely destroyed in the past three years.