Muslim villagers clash with Chinese authorities over mosque’s demolition


BEIJING — The government demolition of a newly
refurbished mosque in a northern Chinese village has raised tensions
with the Hui, a Muslim group that in the past has been granted more
freedoms by the Chinese Communist Party than other embattled minorities
such as the Uighurs.

Muslim villagers in Taoshan, a community in the
Ningxia region, clashed with authorities who destroyed a refurbished
mosque scheduled to reopen on New Year’s Day.

At least two people were reported killed in the
fighting Friday, including an 80-year-old woman. One villager said the
death toll was as high as five.

The violence was unusual in that the Hui are more
assimilated than other Muslim minorities and at times have taken the
side of authorities in regard to other minority groups, especially the

“According to local tradition a mosque should never
be demolished,” said Ye Shaowu, owner of a small hotel nearby, agreeing
that there had been little tension in the past between local Muslims and
Communist authorities.

The mosque dated back to the Qing dynasty of the 19th
century and had been legally registered with authorities, said Zhe Tao,
the wife of the imam. Muslim families in the village had raised
$127,000 for a renovation project that began in 2010.

“We refurbished this mosque with our hard work and
blood. It is so sad to see it demolished,” said Zhe in a telephone
interview. “We don’t understand what happened. We never had any
interference with our religious life before. We love our country. We
love the party.”

Police from Hexi, the nearest town, were quoted in
the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post as saying that the mosque
was demolished because it was an “illegal structure.”

Ye, the hotel owner, said that some villagers had
said the mosque was run by an “evil cult” — language that the Chinese
government uses to refer to the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement.

The destruction occurred just after prayers on
Friday, and was met with opposition from a large crowd gathered in
anticipation of a formal opening ceremony Jan. 1.

More than 1,000 police and military sent in from
neighboring Gansu province “were met with vigorous resistance from more
than 100 villagers wielding clubs and shovels,” a villager named Jin
Haitao told the Hong Kong-based Post newspaper.

The police tried to control the crowd with tear gas
and water cannons, villagers said. Both of those reported killed were
said to be older people.

The Hong Kong-based Information Center for Human
Rights and Democracy said at least 50 others were injured and more than
100 detained.

The mainland media had no mention of the incident as of Tuesday night.

Mosques and churches are closely regulated by the
Chinese Communist Party, which disapproves of religious worship and
restricts the power of religious institutions.

The Hui are a Mandarin-speaking community of about 10
million people descended from Silk Road traders who intermarried with
Chinese. They are practically indistinguishable from the majority Han
Chinese except for the white skullcaps that many men wear and the
headscarves worn by some women.

Zhe, the wife of the imam, said she feared the mosque destruction would sour ethnic relations.

“Obviously this will have an impact on relations between Hui and government,”“ she said.

In Western China, clashes have broken out repeatedly
between authorities and the Uighurs, a Turkic minority of about 9
million, who say they have been victims of discrimination by the Han,
China’s dominant ethnic group.


©2012 the Los Angeles Times

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