Thousands in China mosque standoff over demolition plan

An ethnic Uighur man talks on the phone in front of the Id Kah Mosque in the old town of Kashgar, Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, China, in this March 22, 2017 file photo. (REUTERS)
Updated 10 August 2018
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Thousands in China mosque standoff over demolition plan

  • The move comes as China’s officially atheist ruling Communist Party is cracking down on religious expression
  • The Hui are culturally much closer to China’s Han majority

BEIJING: Thousands of Muslims gathered at a mosque in northwestern China on Friday to protest its planned demolition in a rare, public pushback to the government's efforts to rewrite how religions are practiced in the country.
A large crowd of Hui people, a Muslim ethnic minority, began congregating at the towering Grand Mosque in the town of Weizhou on Thursday, local Hui residents told The Associated Press by phone.
"People are in a lot of pain," said Ma Sengming, a 72-year-old man who was at the protest from Thursday morning until Friday afternoon. "Many people were crying. We can't understand why this is happening."
Ma said the group shouted "Protect faith in China!" and "Love the country, love the faith!"
The protest comes as faith groups that were largely tolerated in the past have seen their freedoms shrink as the government seeks to "Sinicize" religions by making the faithful prioritize allegiance to the officially atheist ruling Communist Party. Islamic crescents and domes have been stripped from mosques, Christian churches have been shut down and Bibles seized, and Tibetan children have been moved from Buddhist temples to schools.
The residents of Weizhou were alarmed by news that the government was planning to demolish the mosque despite initially appearing to approve its construction, which was completed just last year.
The town's Communist Party secretary had even made a congratulatory speech at the site when the mosque's construction began, said Ma Zhiguo, a resident in his late 70s.
The authorities planned to take down eight out of the nine domes topping the mosque on the grounds that the structure was built larger than permitted, Ma said. But community members were standing their ground, he added.
"How could we allow them to tear down a mosque that is still in good condition?" he said, adding that the mosque conducts prayers attended by about 30,000 Muslims and was built using believers' personal funds. Photos online show the mosque to be a palatial white structure, with towering columns, vertical windows and a Chinese national flag erected out front.
Officials in the county and city propaganda offices said they were not aware of the situation. Other local authorities could not immediately be reached for comment.
In May, the county disciplinary inspection commission published a notice saying that Weizhou authorities had failed to properly oversee the construction of the Grand Mosque. As a result of lax supervision, the notice said, four mosques in the county had received a total of 1.07 million yuan ($156,148) in foreign donations. It did not specify whether the Grand Mosque was among the four.
Ma Sengming said protesters remained at the mosque through the night from Thursday to Friday and were twice visited by a local official who encouraged them to go home. Ma said the official did not make any specific promises, but tried to assure the protesters that the government would work with them on the matter.
More than a hundred police officers surrounded the mosque, but did not attempt to stop the protest, according to Ma.
Public demonstrations are rare in China, where the government is often quick to quash any hint of dissent. Under President Xi Jinping, the Communist Party is cracking down on religious expression and attacking what it calls radical ideas among the country's more than 20 million Muslims.
In the far west region of Xinjiang, following sporadic violent attacks by radical Muslim separatists, hundreds of thousands of members of the Uighur and Kazakh Muslim minorities have been arbitrarily detained in indoctrination camps where they are forced to denounce Islam and profess loyalty to the party.
Compared to those ethnic groups, the Hui are culturally much closer to China's Han majority, similar in appearance and speaking a variation of the mainstream Mandarin language.
But recently, reports said authorities have shut down Hui religious schools and Arabic classes and barred children from participating in Muslim activities.
James Leibold, a scholar of Chinese ethnic policies at Melbourne's La Trobe University, said the proposed demolition of the Weizhou mosque appeared to be part of a recent "far more assimilatory policy" toward ethnic minorities.
"The ultimate agenda is to erode minority identity and create a sense of belonging and connection to Chinese identity and Chinese culture," Leibold said.


Speed control on Taiwan train ‘malfunctioned’ before deadly accident

Updated 5 min 40 sec ago
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Speed control on Taiwan train ‘malfunctioned’ before deadly accident

  • The train came off the rails on a curve while moving at close to 140 kilometers per hour
  • Derailments are not uncommon in Taiwan, but deadly accidents are rare

YILAN, Taiwan: A speed control system was not functioning when a train in Taiwan crashed killing 18 people and injuring 187, in the island’s worst rail disaster in decades, a top investigator said on Tuesday.
It was not clear whether the system, called automatic train protection, had switched off by itself or had been manually disabled before the accident on Sunday, the head of a government-led investigation team, Wu Ze-cheng, said.
“If the train was above the speed limit, the system should automatically slow it down. It seems like the system had failed. Why? We need more investigation,” Wu said.
The train came off the rails on a curve while moving at close to 140 kilometers per hour, above the speed limit of 74 kph, Wu said.
More investigation was needed to determine the cause, he added.
The driver of the train, You Zhen-zhong, 48, was granted bail of T$500,000 ($16,167) on Tuesday after being detained for investigation, the Taiwan Railways Administration said.
You had been treated in hospital following the accident in Yilan county, in the island’s mountainous northeast.
The train data recorder, which tracks speed, among other things, had been sent to prosecutors to be examined.
The disaster was Taiwan’s deadliest rail accident since a 1981 collision that killed 30 people.
The head of the state railway administration, Lu Jie-shen, had offered to resign but that was not accepted by the transport minister, the railway authority said.
Premier William Lai apologized for the accident on behalf of the government.
“People expected the railway to be the safest,” Lai told parliament.
“I apologize to the people on behalf of the Executive Yuan,” he said, referring to the island’s cabinet.
Train derailments are not uncommon on the island, which has rough, mountainous terrain, but deadly accidents are rare.