Officials in Zhaotong city, Yunnan province, demolished the domes and minarets of Baoshan Mosque, a prominent local mosque, on 11 June.
According to a source familiar with the situation, parts of the Baoshan mosque were demolished despite protests from the local Hui Muslim community. Videos provided to CSW by the source show people surrounded by estimates of around 80 riot police officers and men wearing high-visibility vests. Dozens of Muslims were also reportedly beaten by the latter group whilst attempting to guard the mosque.
One of the videos contains the following subtitles: “Locals said that in order to demolish the mosque’s dome, Communist Party members from the Buga Township government, Zhaotong, Yunnan, beat everyone, young and old. They are worse than bandits.”
Baoshan mosque is one of the largest mosques in the township of Buga, where more than 20,000 Hui Muslims live. In 2021, local officials announced plans to demolish the mosque. The source, who must remain anonymous for security reasons, said: “(At the time) they sent around an application form and asked people to sign it. The application form says the Muslim people apply for the government’s help to carry out the rectification and renovation project to remove evidence of ‘Saudi and Arabic influence’. As long as the people sign this application form, they (the government officials) would carry out the demolition and then spend money to transform it into a Chinese-style mosque. However, all the people refused [to sign it], including the imam and the lay people.”
Muslims had since taken turns to stay in the mosque day and night in order to guard it from being damaged. However, on 11 June, the volunteer guards were summoned by the township government, and were detained by the officials after complying with the summons, thereby leaving the mosque unguarded and allowing the demolition to proceed. The conflict left more than 20 Muslims injured, many of whom were taken to the Zhaotong No.2 Hospital for treatment.
A Muslim scholar, who must also remain anonymous, told CSW that this is the second time the Chinese authorities have deployed armed forces to forcibly demolish parts of a mosque. The other occasion was the attempted demolition of the Weizhou Grand Mosque in Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region (NHAR) in northwestern China in August 2018.
In video footage, a party secretary surnamed Ma from a town in Zhaoyang District, Zhaotong city, said: “This (removal of mosque domes) is ’an unstoppable general trend‘. It’s been ordered by the central government. No one can stop it.”
The Hui are one of China’s largest ethnic minority groups. They are generally more integrated into mainstream Chinese society than the Uyghurs and other predominantly Muslim Turkic groups. As part of the Chinese regime’s efforts to “Sinicize Islam” in recent years, campaigns to forcibly “rectify” mosques have taken place in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), and NHAR and other provinces with large Hui populations, including Gansu, Henan, Qinghai and Yunnan.
There are more than 100 mosques in Yunnan’s Zhaotong city alone. Locals say that the authorities have removed domes and minarets from almost all of the mosques to date; only three remain intact. In March 2021, the authorities forcibly removed the domes from two mosques which are over 100 years old, ignoring protests from the local Muslim community. Several well-known local Muslim cadres and entrepreneurs in Zhaotong who opposed these renovation projects have reportedly been accused of various crimes, and either removed from their posts or arrested.
Local Muslims have also complained that the authorities regularly provide random excuses to deny access to mosques, and that mosques in Kunming, the capital city of Yunnan province, were not even open during Eid al-Fitr this year.
CSW’s Founder President Mervyn Thomas said: “We are shocked by this violent crackdown on Muslims who bravely spoke up and tried to protect their place of worship. This marks the latest incident in a lengthy campaign targeting Muslims across China, which of course is part of a wider campaign to ‘Sinicize’ peaceful expressions of religion or belief throughout the country. CSW calls on the Chinese government to respect its citizens’ right to freedom of religion or belief, to cease the demolition of domes, minarets and Islamic symbols, and to immediately release those who have been arrested for opposing the demolitions.”