Clashes at ancient China mosque over planned demolition

The mosque in recent years expanded its minarets and the dome’s roof and a court ruled the additions illegal.

Police in China have given protesters who blocked demolitions at an ancient mosque a deadline to turn themselves in for “disrupting social order” and “criminal acts”.

Authorities deployed hundreds of police and made arrests in the mostly Muslim town of Nagu after clashes erupted at the weekend over the planned destruction.

Officials in Nagu, in southwestern Yunnan province, recently pushed ahead with plans to raze four minarets and the dome roof of the 13th-century Najiaying Mosque, a resident said on Monday, requesting anonymity for fear of retribution.

The mosque in recent years expanded the minarets and dome’s roof, and a local court ruled the additions to be illegal.

Yunnan is home to a sizable enclave of Hui, a predominantly Muslim ethnic group who have come under pressure in the face of a broad crackdown. President Xi Jinping has directed the Communist Party to “Sinicise” the country’s ethnic and religious minorities.

‘We won’t let them’

On Saturday, dozens of officers wielding truncheons and riot shields repelled a crowd outside the mosque that hurled objects at them, videos circulating on social media and the witness said.

“They want to proceed with forced demolitions so the people here went to stop them,” a local woman who also asked not to be identified told AFP news agency. “The mosque is home for Muslims like us. If they try to knock it down, we certainly won’t let them.

“Buildings are just buildings – they do no harm to people or society. Why do they have to destroy them?”

Police made an unspecified number of arrests over the incident and several hundred officers remained in the town as of Monday, the two witnesses said.

A notice issued on Sunday by the Tonghai government – which administers Nagu – said it opened an investigation into “a case that severely disrupted social management and order”.

The notice ordered those involved to “immediately stop all illegal and criminal acts”, saying they will “severely punish” anyone who refuses to turn themselves in.

“Those who voluntarily surrender [by June 6] and truthfully confess the facts of violations and crimes may be given a lighter and mitigated punishment according to law,” it said.

China has sought to tightly control religion since President Xi came to power a decade ago, and in its crackdown on Muslims Beijing claims it is working to combat “terrorism and extremist thought”.

An estimated one million Uighurs, Hui, and other Muslim minorities have been detained in the western Xinjiang region since 2017 under a government campaign of “re-education”.

While the effect on communities outside Xinjiang has been milder, many have seen their mosques demolished or “coercively renovated” to match official notions of Chinese aesthetics, said David Stroup, an expert on the Hui at Britain’s University of Manchester.

Source: News Agencies