TAIPEI, TAIWAN — The Chinese government expanded its crackdown on religion over the weekend, with hundreds of police officers storming three mosques and forcibly evicting hundreds of worshippers in the southwest province of Yunnan.
Videos circulating on Twitter show uniformed police officers forcing their way into one mosque, where residents were reportedly praying for protection.
Another video recorded from the front door of the mosque shows police violently pushing and dragging Hui Muslim men out while other residents try to resist.
Two anonymous sources told BuzzFeed News that more than 100 police officers were sent to raid three local mosques in Weishan County of Yunnan province on Saturday. The sources said 40 to 50 people were arrested as a result of the raids.
Multiple residents were reportedly injured, including an elderly woman who reportedly collapsed after being forcibly removed from the mosque by police.
According to a government notification circulating on Weibo, China’s popular microblogging site, the three mosques were targeted because local authorities considered them illegal religious sites that had organized illegal religious education in violation of China’s Regulation on Religious Affairs.
“After repeatedly informing local residents about the details of the Regulation on Religious Affairs through outreach programs, some members of the mosques continued to organize illegal religious activities at these illegal religious sites,” the Weishan County government said in the notification. “Based on the Regulation on Religious Affairs, the Religious Affairs bureau at Weishan County Government decided to raid the three mosques on December 29.”
An anonymous source from Yunnan told BuzzFeed News that the mosques have been trying to legally register their establishments with the government for more than a decade. Despite submitting all required materials, the source said, local authorities have denied the applications for a variety of reasons.
“Our county has been designated as the model county to exemplify ethnic harmony, and all ethnic groups have coexisted peacefully for the last few decades,” the source told BuzzFeed News. “There were no conflicts between ethnic groups.”
Sulaiman Gu, a Hui Muslim student activist living in the United States, told BuzzFeed News that the local mosques have remained loyal to the central government in Beijing, but in order to successfully register with the government, they need to join Yunnan province’s Islamic association, which is controlled by the Communist Party of China (CCP). However, due to the differences in their religious practices, they decided to set up their own mosques.
“They set up their own mosques because they belong to different denominations of Islam, but the government doesn’t really care about denominations,” Gu told BuzzFeed News. “They were targeted because they were not under the government-controlled system.”
Images show that the mosques pledged allegiance to the CCP by displaying Chinese flags and communist slogans. The anonymous source said that the leaders of the mosques thought, erroneously, that such measures would prevent them from being targeted.
“The Chinese flag and communist slogans didn’t protect the mosques,” said Gu. “Rather, it reflects China’s barbarity and brutality.”
Images on Twitter show that entrances to the mosques have been chained, reportedly awaiting demolition.
China has been tightening control over all religions by cracking down on underground churches and other unregistered religious institutions. Additionally, the large-scale internment of Muslim minorities in the Xinjiang autonomous region has increased concerns among China’s Muslim community that the government is planning to expand its model in Xinjiang to other parts of China. Last month, the state-run tabloid Global Times published an article hinting that other regions with sizable Muslim minorities are learning from Xinjiang’s experience, which officials say is intended to fight terrorism.
“Zhang Yunsheng, a [CCP] chief from Ningxia, went to Xinjiang to study and investigate how Xinjiang fights terrorism and legally manages religious affairs,” the Global Times article said.
The anonymous source emphasized that the local Hui Muslim community in Yunnan believes that the government is trying to use groundless accusations to persecute the community, and the tactics used in Xinjiang are likely to be carried over to Yunnan.
“It is only a matter of time until other Hui Muslim communities and mosques in Yunnan begin to be targeted by the government,” said the source. “In the face of an authoritarian regime, we can only be manipulated.”
The name of Yunnan province was misspelled in an earlier version of this post. An earlier version of this article also misidentified the province as Shandong.