In a significant expansion of its campaign against religious freedom, the Chinese government is now targeting mosques in regions beyond Xinjiang, as revealed by a recent Human Rights Watch report. This crackdown has not only infringed upon the rights of Muslim minorities in these areas but has also raised international concern over China’s aggressive policies towards religious practices.
The focus of this crackdown has shifted to the Ningxia and Gansu provinces, known for their substantial Hui Muslim populations. This move is part of a broader strategy officially termed “mosque consolidation,” which has been previously concentrated in Xinjiang. This region has witnessed severe abuses under the guise of “Sinicization” of religions, a policy initiated by President Xi Jinping in 2016, which has led to cultural persecution amounting to crimes against humanity.
According to the report, Chinese authorities have destroyed or damaged two-thirds of Xinjiang’s mosques since 2017, with about half of them being completely demolished. This systematic destruction of mosques extends the state’s control over religion and represents a blatant violation of the right to freedom of religion as outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The report sheds light on the alarming situation in Ningxia and Gansu, where authorities have not only shut down mosques but also altered their architectural features to align them with “Chinese” aesthetics. Such actions are a clear attempt by the Communist Party to exert greater control over religious practices and minimize potential threats to its authority.
The Human Rights Watch report, based on public documents, satellite images, and eyewitness accounts, suggests that about one-third of mosques in Ningxia have been closed since 2020. However, the exact number of mosques affected in these regions remains unclear. This lack of transparency further highlights the systematic nature of these closures and the government’s effort to curb the practice of Islam in China.
Maya Wang, the acting China director at Human Rights Watch, has criticized these actions, stating that the closure, destruction, and repurposing of mosques represent a systematic effort to suppress Islam in China. This contradicts the government’s claim of merely “consolidating” mosques.
The report also calls on foreign governments, particularly member countries of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, to increase pressure on China to end this campaign against the Muslim population. It emphasizes the need for governments concerned about religious freedom to raise these issues directly with the Chinese government and at international forums.
This expansion of mosque closures and alterations in China is not just an issue of regional concern but a matter of global importance. It underscores the need for concerted international efforts to address and halt these violations of religious freedom.