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Xinjiang Data Project website launch

By Kelsey Munro

ASPI’s International Cyber Policy Centre has launched the Xinjiang Data Project, along with two new major pieces of research, on Xinijang’s detention system, and on the destruction of mosques and significant Uyghur cultural sites in the region. One of the most effective research methods in both of these projects was the collection and analysis of satellite imagery, including the examination of night-time satellite imagery from Xinjiang.

Since 2017, a government crackdown in the far-western region of China known as the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region has seen over a million Uyghurs and other Turkic and Muslim minorities extrajudicially detained in a vast network of purpose-built detention facilities. There have also been media reports about incidents of mosques demolished or repurposed, along with other Uyghur cultural sites. 

Credible data on the extent of Xinjiang’s post-2017 detention system is scarce. But researchers at ASPI’s International Cyber Policy Centre have now located, mapped and analysed 380 suspected detention facilities in Xinjiang, making it the most comprehensive data on Xinjiang’s detention system in the world. This new database highlights ‘re-education’ camps, detention centres, and prisons which have been newly built or expanded since 2017, and we believe it covers most such detention facilities. 

The findings of this research contradicts Chinese officials’ claims that all “re-education camp” detainees had ‘graduated’ in December 2019. It presents satellite imagery evidence that shows newly constructed detention facilities, along with growth in several existing facilities, that has occurred across 2019 and 2020. 

The second key piece of research on our new website is a project investigating the rate of cultural destruction in Xinjiang. This research estimates 35% of mosques have been demolished; and a further 30% have been damaged in some way, usually by the removal of Islamic or Arabic architectural features such as domes, minarets or gatehouses. We estimate approximately 16,000 mosques have been damaged or totally destroyed throughout Xinjiang (65% of the total). The majority of demolished sites remain as empty lots. 

Further, 30% of important Islamic cultural sites (sacred shrines, cemeteries and pilgrimage routes) across southern Xinjiang have been demolished since 2017, with an additional 28% damaged or altered in some way. This includes the complete demolition of the ancient pilgrimage town of Ordam Mazar. 

This new research and associated maps and satellite imagery, can be viewed at the Xinjiang Data Project website