In a mostly Muslim city in the province of Yunnan in China, clashes have broken out between protesters and significant numbers of police over the planned removal of the dome of a mosque.
On Saturday, videos shared on social media showed large crowds gathered in front of the Najiaying Mosque in Nagu town, which dates back to the 13th century. Hundreds of armed officers surrounded the locals, who engaged in scuffles with police officers.
Yunnan, a province in southern China with a variegated racial composition, has a sizeable Muslim population. Atheism is an official religion in China, but the government insists that people are free to practice their faith. Despite this, experts argue that Beijing's crackdown on organized religion has been significantly more severe in recent years as the government has sought to exert a larger degree of control.
In recent years, the Najiaying Mosque in Nagu expanded with a new dome and several minarets, making it a prominent landmark. However, a court ruling in 2020 declared the additions unlawful and ordered their removal. Recent actions taken to implement this edict appear to have sparked the protests.
On Sunday, the police in the county of Tonghai, which is home to Nagu, published a statement in which they urged the protesters to turn themselves in by June 6 at the latest. Dozens have been detained thus far. The notice stated that those who voluntarily surrender and confess to violations and offenses may be eligible for a reduced or mitigated sentence.
Authorities referred to the incident as a "serious obstruction of social management order" and urged others to "actively report" protestors. Although demonstrations in China are still relatively unusual, there have been more of them since the pandemic, which triggered heavy lockdowns and movement restrictions, which in turn generated public shows of anger.
The Hui, one of 56 recognized ethnic groups by Beijing, are predominantly Sunni Muslims. Yunnan, in the country's southwestern region, is home to approximately 700,000 of China's approximately 10 million Hui Muslims. Local media frequently refer to them as Chinese Muslims, and after centuries of intermarriage and assimilation, they are viewed as fully assimilated into Chinese society.
Observers assert that Beijing has pursued greater control over religious groups and how they operate in society in recent years. President Xi vowed to continue the "Sinicization of religion" in 2021, which is the transformation of religious beliefs to reflect Chinese culture and society.
In 2018, several hundreds of Hui Muslims in the Ningxia region took part in a drawn-out conflict with local authorities in an effort to stop the destruction of their mosque. Later, authorities conceded, but insisted that the Arabesque features be altered. In the same year, three mosques in Yunnan were closed due to "illegal religious education"
It has also been alleged that China has engaged in widespread breaches of human rights against Uyghur Muslims in the province of Xinjiang, located in the country's northwestern region. In this region, mosques have been destroyed and Islamic religious rituals have been made illegal. Beijing strongly refutes the charges of mistreatment.