China destroys dozens of Uighur cemeteries in drive to 'eradicate' cultural history of Muslims

Telegraph 1 month ago

Even in death there is no respite for the Uighurs, one of the world's most persecuted minorities, according to a new investigation that has revealed China is destroying burial grounds where generations of families have been interred.

Over the past two years, tombs have been smashed and human bones scattered in dozens of desecrated cemeteries in China’s northwest region, research by Agence France Presse and satellite imagery analysts Earthrise Alliance has revealed.

While the official explanation for the policy is urban development or the “standardisation” of old graves, overseas Uighurs say the destruction is part of the state’s concerted effort to eradicate their ethnic identity and control every aspect of their lives.

"This is all part of China's campaign to effectively eradicate any evidence of who we are, to effectively make us like the Han Chinese," said Salih Hudayar, who said the graveyard where his great-grandparents were buried was demolished.

"That's why they're destroying all of these historical sites, these cemeteries, to disconnect us from our history, from our fathers and our ancestors," he said.

satellite images received on September 30, 2019 from CNES 2019, distributed by Airbus DS and produced by Earthrise shows a picture from April 24, 2018 (top) showing the Sulanim cemetery (C) in Hotan, Xinjiang province and the same view on August 6, 2019 (bottom) 
Satellite images received on September 30, 2019 from CNES 2019, distributed by Airbus DS and produced by Earthrise shows a picture from April 24, 2018 (top) showing the Sulanim cemetery (C) in Hotan, Xinjiang province and the same view on August 6, 2019 (bottom) 

An estimated one million mostly Muslim ethnic minorities have been rounded up into re-education camps in Xinjiang in the name of combatting religious extremism and separatism.

Former detainees interviewed by The Telegraph have recounted horrific torture, being forced to memorise Chinese Communist Party propaganda, and to renounce Islam.

Those who are free are intimidated by suffocating surveillance and restrictions, including bans on beards and veils.

A further Telegraph investigation in Kashgar, Xinjiang, in June found evidence of widespread intimidation of the local population, whether inside mosques or in family homes, including reports that officials were offering “gifts” of pork, a forbidden food for Muslims.

a picture from August 29, 2017 (top) showing a cemetery (C) and the same view on July 5, 2019 with no sign of the facility in Xayar, Xinjiang province
A picture from August 29, 2017 (top) showing a cemetery (C) and the same view on July 5, 2019 with no sign of the facility in Xayar, Xinjiang province

Beijing has long sought to control the resource-rich region of Xinjiang, where decades of government-encouraged migration of the Han – China’s ethnic majority – have fuelled resentment among Uighurs.

Last year, Uighur exile groups reported that the Chinese authorities were setting up “burial management centres” in a bid to exert control over the most private aspects of their lives.  

The latest investigation claims that the destruction of existing graveyards has been carried out with little respect for the dead – with AFP journalists discovering human bones discarded at three site and other sites where tombs were reduced to mounds of bricks.  

Satellite imagery analysed by AFP and Earthrise Alliance, shows that the Chinese government has, since 2014, exhumed and flattened at least 45 Uighur cemeteries - including 30 in the past two years.

The Xinjiang government did not respond to a request for comment.

This photo taken on September 13, 2019 shows the works of a park in a place where before there was a Uighur cemetery in Kuche in the region of Xinjiang.
This photo taken on September 13, 2019 shows the works of a park in a place where before there was a Uighur cemetery in Kuche in the region of Xinjiang.

The destruction is "not just about religious persecution," said Nurgul Sawut, who has five generations of family buried in Yengisar, southwestern Xinjiang.

"It is much deeper than that," said Ms Sawut, who now lives in Australia and last visited Xinjiang in 2016 to attend her father's funeral.

"If you destroy that cemetery ... you're uprooting whoever's on that land, whoever's connected to that land," she explained.

China has dismissed the escalating global criticism of its treatment of Uighurs, denying there are any human rights issues in the region.

This week, the United States said it would curb visas for officials over the alleged abuses and blacklisted 28 Chinese facial recognition and artificial intelligence technology firms that it accuses of being implicated in the repression of the Muslim minority.

"This kind of behavior seriously violates the basic norms of international relations, interferes in China's internal affairs, and harms China's interests," said Geng Shuang, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman. "The Chinese side strongly deplores and opposes it."


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