Tensions flare in China as Muslim protesters clash with police over mosque demolition

Activists say dozens of people arrested as authorities call protests ‘a serious obstruction of social management order’

Shweta Sharma
Tuesday 30 May 2023 13:58 BST
Ethnic minority Muslims clashed with large number of police in southwest China after they were blocked from worshipping in a mosque that they said authorities are planning to demolish
Ethnic minority Muslims clashed with large number of police in southwest China after they were blocked from worshipping in a mosque that they said authorities are planning to demolish (Screengrab/@VOAChinese)

Protesters of ethnic minority Muslims clashed with a large number of police in southwest China after they were blocked from worshipping in a mosque that they said authorities plan to demolish.

Clashes broke out over the weekend outside the 13th-century Najiaying mosque in Yunnan province, which has a significant population of Hui ethnic group Muslims.

The apparent crackdown on religious minorities comes amid Xi Jinping’s wider campaign to “sinicise” religion and seek greater control.

Videos and pictures on social media showed dozens of people clashing with lines of police officers in riot gear who appeared to block entry to the mosque.

Scuffles broke out as angry worshippers tried to force their way in, following a verbal altercation with the forces deployed in huge numbers.

Following an hours-long standoff with the police, people streamed into Najiaying mosque after law enforcement presence decreased.

China is officially an atheist state, but the government formally recognises four religions and allows them religious freedom. They are Buddhism, Taoism, Christianity (Catholicism and Protestantism).

However, under Mr Xi’s plans to ensure “sinicisation”, which broadly means bringing religions in line with Chinese character or influence on religions, authorities are cracking down on ethnic minorities.

In a 2021 meeting of his Communist party, Mr Xi called for the promotion of the “sinicisation of religion”.

Witnesses told CNN on condition of anonymity that thousands of Hui residents had gathered around the mosque on Saturday, with nearly 1,000 police officers deployed outside the mosque.

“After arriving at the mosque, we realised that they had driven the cranes into the compound and were ready for the forced demolition,” the source said, adding that scaffolding for demolition has already been erected around the mosque.

Ma Ju, a prominent Hui activist who moved to the US, claimed the police have arrested about 30 people, according to the network.

Residents took turns to guard the mosque through Saturday and Sunday night, fearing demolition of some parts of the building.

The mosque in Nagu in Tonghai county underwent an expansion recently to include a new domed roof and a number of minarets.

In a 2020 judgement, a court ruled that any architectural additions to religious sites would be deemed illegal, ordering them to be demolished. Demolitions of parts of religious structures following the order have led to demonstrations among people.

Police in Tonghai county urged protesters to voluntarily surrender to police by 7 June.

“Those who voluntarily turn themselves in and truthfully confess the facts of violations and crimes may be given a lighter or mitigated punishment,” said the notice.

Law enforcement authorities in Nagu township called the incident “a serious obstruction of social management order” while urging people to “actively report” protesters.

Police have arrested dozens of people following the demonstrations and are expected to make more arrests.

This was not the first time Hui Muslims were engaged in a tense standoff with Chinese law enforcement.

in 2018, a sit-in protest lasting three days took place in Ningxia, a region in the northwest of the country, where thousands of Hui residents gathered to prevent the authorities from demolishing a newly built mosque.

As a result of the protest, the local government decided to postpone the demolition. However, they later replaced the mosque’s domes and minarets with traditional Chinese-style pagodas.

In the same year, three mosques were shut in Yunnan after they were considered to be “illegal religious education”.

Activists for the Hui have said they are the latest ethnic group to be targeted by the Communist party, which has been cracking down on Muslim minorities. The alleged prosecution of Uyghur Muslims in northwestern Xinjiang has been widely reported.

According to a 2020 census, there are 11.4 million Hui people in China, making it only the fourth-largest ethnic group after the Han Chinese, the Zhuang and Uyghur.

The Hui is among 56 ethnic groups recognised by the country and are believed to be distant descendants of Arab and Persian traders.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in