Police in the remote western province of Qinghai targeted Hui Muslim children with tranquilizer darts during an eviction and demolition operation that left nine people hospitalized, local residents said on Wednesday.
A resident of Xiangdong village, near Qunke township, said that the nine people were taken to a local medical facility after being hit by tranquilizer darts during the operation to evict families and demolish their homes which began last Friday and continued into Tuesday.
"They came here and targeted our kids with tranquilizer darts," the resident, who gave only his surname Ma, said in an interview on Wednesday.
He said eight children had been hit by the darts, which were fired by "riot police from Hualong county."
"They are all in the hospital ... two or three were quite badly hurt," Ma said. "They were injured when they fainted and fell down, and some of them had problems with their vision; they couldn't see properly for the entire evening."
He said one adult had also been taken to hospital after being hit by a dart.
A local resident surnamed Zhao confirmed Ma's account.
"The riot police were attacking people," he said. "They even used tranquilizer darts, and the people who got hit by them couldn't stand up, and they were detained after they fainted."
"Our houses were demolished ... and when the kids got home from school, their homes were gone and they didn't know where their relatives were, and they just sat down in a daze there on the pile of rubble and wailed," Zhao said.
"They had placards saying they were homeless; it was really heartbreaking," he said.
Residents told RFA on Friday that around 700 people had been forcibly evicted from their homes by demolition gangs and police.
"The riot police charged us, and grabbed my mother, my sister, my brother and my wife and dragged them away, then then they flattened our home with a mechanical digger," one resident said in an interview at the time.
An officer who answered the phone at the Hualong county police department public order team on Wednesday denied that tranquilizer darts had been fired.
"No such thing happened," the officer said. "The children were taken to hospital with heat exhaustion because it's very hot here."
"Then people started up some malicious rumors, which have been making the rounds."
The officer also denied that forcible evictions had taken place in the village, and that eight people had been detained during a standoff between police and local residents.
The township Communist Party secretary, who gave only his surname Li, denied that the evictions were forced, however.
"These were legal demolitions and clearances," Li said in an interview on Friday. "You shouldn't listen to them. They did [get compensation]."
"There were only a handful of villagers who were uncooperative ... the clearances were ordered by the courts, and they were all illegal structures."
He also denied that tranquilizer darts had been fired. "That never happened," he said.
Clashes between rural communities and police are becoming more and more widespread as local residents increasingly challenge lucrative property deals involving collectively owned land by local officials.
In June 2012, authorities in the northwestern Chinese region of Ningxia handed jail terms of up to six years to 14 ethnic minority Hui Muslims for "inciting violence" and "obstructing public duty," following clashes over the destruction of a mosque at the end of 2011.
Police in Tongxin county near Ningxia's Wuzhong city detained around 40 Muslim Hui people following riots sparked by the forced demolition of a local mosque by the authorities. Four were later released, and 36 stood trial on April 24.
The Hui are culturally more similar to mainstream Han Chinese than Xinjiang's Turkic-speaking Uyghur people, but retain some Islamic customs like avoiding pork and circumcising male children.
Ethnic tensions have nonetheless flared in recent years, notably in riots following a 2004 car accident involving a Han Chinese and a Hui Muslim in the central province of Henan.
And in 1993, a cartoon ridiculing Muslims led to police storming a mosque taken over by Hui in northwestern China.
China's atheist ruling Party maintains a tight grip on religious activities, in spite of promising freedom of religion via the Constitution, allowing only officially recognized religious institutions to operate.
Reported by Fung Yat-yiu for RFA's Cantonese service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.