The Garman Mosque in Cele County, Xinjiang, China, is hidden behind high walls and Communist Party propaganda signs, making it invisible to passersby as a religious site.
Reuters reports that the Communist Party’s crackdown on religious freedom in Xinjiang is showing signs of worsening, and says some Xinjiang mosques are now uncertain whether they are still being used for religious purposes.
The report noted that a 12-day visit by Reuters reporters to more than two dozen mosques in seven counties in southwestern and central Xinjiang during Ramadan ended on Thursday.
Beijing’s propaganda claiming to “protect mosques” and “religious freedom” is in stark contrast to the reality on the ground, the report said. Most of the mosques visited by Reuters have been partially or completely demolished.
The Garman mosque in Cele County, Xinjiang, China, was reportedly hidden behind high walls and Communist Party propaganda signs, making it invisible to passersby as a religious site.
In late April, during the Muslim month of Ramadan, two Uighur women sat behind a small mesh fence in the courtyard of what has long been the city’s largest place of worship, beneath a security camera lens. But the Reuters reporter said it was impossible to determine at this point whether the place was currently operating as a mosque.
Within minutes of the reporter’s arrival, four men in plain clothes appeared around the site and stood guard on all sides and locked the gates of nearby residential buildings.
The men told reporters that it was illegal to take pictures here.
“There is no mosque here …… There has never been a mosque in this place.” One of the men said in response to a question from Reuters about whether there was a mosque inside. He declined to reveal his identity.
Within minutes of the reporter’s arrival, four men in plain clothes appeared around the scene and stood guard on all sides and locked the gates of nearby residential buildings. The men told reporters that it was illegal to take pictures here. (Reuters)
The minarets on the four corners of the building have disappeared, as seen in a 2019 satellite image. A large blue metal object stands where the central dome of the mosque once appeared. It is unclear whether this was a place of worship at the time the satellite images were taken.
In recent months, the Communist Party has stepped up its propaganda in the official media and countered criticism from researchers, human rights groups and former Xinjiang residents through government-arranged tours. They point out that thousands of mosques have also been targeted in the CCP’s crackdown on the region’s predominantly Muslim Uighur population.
Officials in Xinjiang and Beijing told reporters in Beijing that no religious sites had been forcibly destroyed or restrictions imposed, and invited them to visit and report on them.
“We have taken a series of measures to protect them,” Xinjiang government spokesman Yilijiang Anayti said of the mosques late last year.
Communist Party Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Wednesday that some mosques have been demolished, while others have been upgraded and expanded as part of a revitalization of the countryside.
Asked about authorities’ restrictions on journalists visiting the area, Hua said journalists must work harder to “win the trust of the Chinese people” and report objectively.