China expands mosque closure campaign beyond Xinjiang, Human Rights Watch reveals News
Windmemories, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
China expands mosque closure campaign beyond Xinjiang, Human Rights Watch reveals

The Chinese government has increased mosque closures in the northern Ningxia region and Gansu province, according to a report released on Wednesday by Human Rights Watch. The government has previously faced international scrutiny for its treatment of Uyghurs in the Xinjiang region, a Chinese Muslim ethnic minority.

The report describes the closure of mosques in Ningxia and Gansu, home to significant populations of Hui Muslims. Officially termed “consolidation,” this action involves shutting down religious institutions and modifying their architectural features to align with Chinese aesthetics. The Hui Muslims, a distinctive ethno-religious group in China numbering over 10 million individuals, are now at the forefront of concerns regarding the government’s broader campaign to “consolidate” mosques.

Maya Wang, acting China director at Human Rights Watch, asserted, “The Chinese government is not consolidating mosques as it claims, but closing many down in violation of religious freedom.” She described the closure, destruction and repurposing of mosques as part of a systematic effort to curb Islamic practices in China.

The term “mosque consolidation” first appeared in an internal party document from April 2018, which was included in the “Xinjiang Papers” leak. The document instructed state agencies nationwide to standardize the management of Islamic religious venues and explicitly stated that no new mosques should be constructed to reduce their overall number.

The HRW report, supported by public documents, satellite images, and witness testimonies, casts the consolidation initiative as part of the Communist Party’s broader strategy to control religion. However, in response to an Associated Press request for comment, the Chinese Foreign Ministry emphasized the importance of protecting and repairing mosques, dismissing claims of bias and political manipulation.

President Xi Jinping’s treatment of Muslim minorities in China, particularly the treatment of Uyghurs, has drawn widespread international scrutiny and condemnation. Notably, the United Nations, the United States, Canada, and France have all voiced concerns over China’s actions.

In August 2022, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) released a report stating that “credible allegations of patterns of serious human rights violations” in China, especially against Uyghurs, warrant further investigation by an impartial international mechanism. The report suggested that China might have committed crimes against humanity in its treatment of Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang.

Additionally, in January 2022, the French National Assembly adopted a resolution condemning China’s “genocide” of Uyghurs. The resolution called on the French government to take “all necessary measures” to halt the Uyghur genocide and to hold those responsible accountable.