China mosque demolition sparks stand-off in Ningxia
CNN: Hundreds of Muslims in western China are engaged in a standoff with authorities to prevent their mosque from being demolished. Officials said the newly completed Weizhou Grand Mosque in Ningxia had not been given proper building permits.
But worshippers refused to back down – one resident said they “won’t let the government touch the mosque”.
China is home to some 23 million Muslims, and Islam has been prominent in Ningxia province for centuries.
But rights groups say there is increasing official hostility towards Muslims in China, and foreign religious influences in particular.
The mosque, which has several soaring minarets and domes, is built in a Middle Eastern style. Officials had on 3 August posted a notice that the mosque would be “forcibly demolished” as it had not been granted the necessary planning and construction permits.
The notice was shared online among the ethnic Hui Muslim community, according to Reuters news agency.
Many questioned why authorities did not stop construction of the mosque, which took two years to complete, if it had not been granted relevant permits, according to the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post newspaper.
Protests were held outside the mosque on Thursday and continued into Friday, say the reports. Pictures circulating on Chinese social media showed large crowds gathering outside the large white building.
One resident said talks between the Hui community and the government had reached an impasse.
“We’re just in a stand-off,” the resident, who withheld his name, told the Post. “The public won’t let the government touch the mosque, but the government is not backing down.”
It remains unclear if the original plan to begin the demolition on Friday will go ahead, or if a compromise has been reached.
An official from the local county’s Islamic Association said that the mosque would not be demolished entirely. He told Reuters the government only wanted the structure “renovated to reduce its scale”.
There has been no comment so far in Chinese state media on the case. In theory, China’s constitution guarantees religious freedom, but in practice, religious activities still remain tightly controlled by the government.
Christian churches for example, have in the past been forced to remove crosses from their roofs, after the government said the symbol broke planning rules.
In recent years, the atheist Chinese Communist Party has become particularly wary of foreign religious influences and authorities have embarked on a campaign to “sinicise religion” – ie make it more Chinese.
As part of that, they have targeted unofficial “house churches” connected to overseas missions where millions of Chinese Christians worship.