BEIJING – Chinese bulldozes working to tear down a mosque in northern China town of Weizhou in Ningxia region, have been stopped by thousands of people who matched to stop the demolition.
“The government said it’s an illegal building, but it’s not. The mosque has several hundred years of history,” a restaurant owner surnamed Ma told Agence France Presse (AFP).
Protests started after local Chinese officials in the town of Weizhou in Ningxia, a region that’s home to many ethnic minority Hui Muslims, said they would be tearing down the local mosque due to its illegal expansion.
In a rare, public pushback to the government’s decisions, people came hundreds of kilometers from other Muslim regions to show support and bring food to those in Weizhou.
Videos posted on social media in recent days showed protesters gathering in front of the building as police with riot shields stood by.
— SCMP News (@SCMPNews) August 10, 2018
Internet and 4G cellphone service had been cut off to the area, resuming only some 14 kilometers away from Weizhou — though residents could still make phone calls.
“They told us the internet was down because of recent rains but does that really make sense?” said a young man straddling his bike.
“They’re afraid of us spreading videos,” he said.
Islam is one of five officially recognized religions in China, home to some 23 million Muslims.
Pressure has been building on the community in recent months as the Communist party moves to tighten the reins on religious expression.
Across China, officials have sought to limit religious freedoms for Muslims as part of a widespread attempt to bring believers in line with the dictates of the ruling Communist Party.
Concerns about the mosque standoff in Weizhou appeared to be spreading Saturday, as Muslims in other regions expressed solidarity with the protesters.
“We are quietly waiting to see that the problem is satisfactorily resolved,” said one open letter posted on Weibo by a mosque in Shanxi province.
If it is not, “we reserve the legal right to go to Ningxia or call on the central government to petition”.