XINJIANG: A public washroom has been constructed on the site of a demolished mosque in Atush of Xinjiang province in northwestern China, a local official said.
The construction of the lavatory on the former site of Tokul mosque in Atush's Suntagh village is part of a campaign, observers say, aimed at hurting the sentiments of the Uyghur Muslims, Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported.
Reports of the restroom's construction on the demolished Tokul mosque site surfaced days after RFA's Uyghur Service learned that authorities had demolished two of three mosques there in a drive launched in late 2016 to raze Muslim places of worship, known as "Mosque Rectification."
The campaign, part of a series of hardline policies under Chinese President Xi Jinping, comes as Beijing is carrying out the mass incarceration of 1.8 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in its internment camps across Xinjiang since April 2017.
In a telephonic interview with RFA, an Uyghur neighborhood committee chief from Suntagh village in Atush, said that Tokul mosque was demolished in 2018 and the public washroom was erected in its place by "Han (Chinese) comrades."
"It is a public toilet ... they have not opened it yet, but it has been built," he said while speaking on condition of anonymity citing fear of reprisal. Asked if there was the need to construct a public toilet on the razed mosque site, the committee chief said, "People have toilets at home, so there were not any problems like that."
He said that Suntagh is situated about three kilometres outside of central Atush and the area sees few to no tourists who would require access to the lavatory. However, the committee chief disclosed that the public washroom was likely built to cover up the debris of the demolished Tokul mosque, as well as for the needs of inspecting groups or cadres visiting the area.
A resident of Suntagh, who refused to be identified, said that one of the two mosques in the village were razed in or around autumn of 2019. A "convenience store" has come up at the former site of Azna mosque and the shop sells alcohol and cigarettes, both of which are forbidden in Islam.
According to a report in 2016, a local official in Hotan prefecture's Lop county reported that authorities were mulling to use the site of a former mosque to open an "activities centre" as a spot for entertainment. Another official in Hotan city's Ilchi township told RFA had said that a former mosque site would be converted into a factory to produce underwear for a Sichuan-based company.
Apart from mosques, Chinese authorities have been systematically destroying Muslim cemeteries and other religious structures across Xinjiang since 2016.
Last year, the Washington-based Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP) published a report titled "Demolishing Faith: The Destruction and Desecration of Uyghurs Mosques and Shrines," saying that the campaign uses geolocation and other techniques and has led to the destruction of between 10,000 and 15,000 mosques, shrines and other religious sites in the region between 2016 and 2019.
Qahar Barat, an Uyghur historian, recently told RFA that the demolition of religious places in Xinjiang constitutes a kind of "spirit breaking." He called on government and Muslim organisations in the Muslim world to take stern action against China's activities, which he described as a "declaration of war on Islam".