Chinese authorities in the southwestern province of Yunnan raided and forcibly evicted local ethnic minority Hui Muslims from three mosques at the weekend, saying they were engaged in "illegal religious activities."
The three mosques in Yunnan's Weishan county were raided by more than 100 riot police and People's Armed Police on Saturday, local Muslims told RFA.
But local Muslims resisted the eviction, and dozens of people were detained and injured in the ensuing clashes, they said.
"First, they went to the Huihuideng Mosque [in Huihuideng village], and everyone resisted them, holding hands tightly, so they forced their way in, shoving us aside, one by one," an eyewitness told RFA. "There are still four or five people in the hospital."
"It seems as if this government is determined to persecute any kind of religious activity," they said, adding that the crackdown on ethnic minority Uyghurs and other Muslims in the northwestern region of Xinjiang now appears to be spreading to the rest of China.
"The atmosphere is similar to the Red Terror, where there is no freedom of speech to speak of," they said.
"This definitely has to do with the [government-backed] Islamic Association ... They are trying to get on the government's good side and boost their political capital."
Video footage of the raids showed police in full riot gear charging into a crowd of unarmed civilians, dragging, shoving and beating local people.
"More than 100 riot police showed up at around 8:30 a.m. [on Saturday], saying they wanted to check and seal off the Huihuideng Mosque," a local Hui Muslim surnamed Ma told RFA. "They wanted to demolish it immediately, but there were a lot of local Muslims gathered there, because that was the village with the biggest Muslim population."
"They were outnumbered by the crowd, and a lot of people were detained and taken to the Weishan Detention Center," Ma said on Monday. "A number of people in the crowd were injured, and they're still in hospital. They detained about 20 people."
Ma said all three mosques have been sealed up to prevent their further use pending demolition.
"Weishan county has been listed as a showcase county for national unity," Ma said. "The authorities' excuse for the demolition is that the buildings were illegal religious venues."
"But the [Muslims] submitted all of the right paperwork right from the start, when they were built," he said. "But the authorities didn't approve it, and blocked it using different reasons."
U.S.-based Muslim student Sulaiman Gu said local Muslims had told him that they had tried to register all three local mosques with the local bureau of minority and religious affairs, to no avail.
"They definitely wanted to register officially, but the authorities wouldn't let them," Gu said. "There were three small Huihuideng mosques, independent offshoots of the bigger one, that were built about 10 years ago."
"Now they will be demolished, whether they like it or not," he said. "The local government's Islamic Association was strongly in favor of this, and said they had to go, so now they have been sealed up with official tape, and the people have been taken away to the county town."
Repeated calls to the Weishan county government offices, the county religious affairs department and the nearby Yongjian township government rang unanswered during office hours on Monday.
The raids come after similar closures and evictions of Muslims from mosques and Islamic schools in the western region fo Xinjiang, the western provinces of Gansu and Ningxia and elsewhere in Yunnan.
A 'threat to party and state'
Gu said the Huihuideng Mosque, which invested in the new buildings to serve some 5,000 ethnic Hui Muslims in the area, had tried to toe the line with President Xi Jinping's insistence that religious groups demonstrate their loyalty to the ruling Chinese Communist Party.
"They were already flying the national red flag in the mosque, and Communist Party slogans, but those things didn't protect them," he said. "None of the mosques in Weishan county had presented any kind of political challenge to the authorities."
"It was simply because they held their prayers and activities outside the government system [for the endorsement of religious activities], just like the [Protestant] house churches," he said.
"In the government's ... eyes, they were a threat to both party and state, so they had to be violently suppressed," Gu said.
On Nov. 27, official media reported that authorities in Ningxia signed an "anti-terrorism cooperation agreement with Xinjiang" to learn from the region's experiences in "promoting social stability."
Since April 2017, Chinese authorities have detained at least 800,000—and possibly more than two million—Uyghurs and members of other Muslim minorities in the camps for indefinite periods of time, according to a U.S. government assessment.
Adrian Zenz, a lecturer in social research methods at the Germany-based European School of Culture and Theology, has said that an estimated 10 to 11 percent of the adult Muslim population of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) have been detained.
While Beijing initially denied the existence of re-education camps, officials have since claimed that the facilities are an effective tool to protect the country from "terrorism" and provide "vocational training" for Uyghurs.
Reporting by RFA’s Uyghur Service and other media organizations, however, has shown that those in the camps are detained against their will and without due process. Camp inmates are subjected to political indoctrination, routinely face rough treatment at the hands of their overseers, and endure poor diets and unhygienic conditions in the often overcrowded facilities.
Last month, dozens of academics issued a joint statement expressing concern over China’s mass incarceration of Uyghurs and other Turkic minorities in the XUAR and called on the international community to take action against “the mass human rights abuses and deliberate attacks on indigenous cultures” in the region.
The scholars called on China to shut down the re-education camp system, urged states and institutions to impose economic sanctions on Chinese authorities and technology companies that are benefiting from the system, and demanded that governments grant asylum to Uyghurs and other Turkic minorities at risk in the region and refuse to deport them to China.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Ng Yik-tung for the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.