Thursday, February 29, 2024

Chinese authorities sweep aside religious protesters

The Chinese authorities have arrested more than 100 people, including Buddhist monks and members of ethnic minority groups, for protesting against a state-sponsored dam project that would allegedly destroy six Buddhist monasteries and force the relocation of around 2,000 people from two villages.

Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported on 22 February that the arrests followed rare protests in Tibet’s Dege County on 14 February, which called for the Gangtuo hydropower station project to be scrapped.

One of the sites threatened is Wonto Monastery, which includes thirteenth-century murals. 

Around 300 monks live in the Wonto and Yena monasteries located close to the proposed site for the dam, and both have cultural and religious significance for locals.

The dam project is part of China’s National Development and Reform Commission’s 2012 plan to build a 13-tier hydropower complex on the Drichu River, located in the upper reaches of the Yangtze.

Reportedly, around 300 Tibetans had gathered outside the Dege County Town Hall to protest against the project but met a severe police response, which used water cannon, pepper spray, and tasers to break up the protests.

“Some of the arrested protesters required hospitalisation due to rough treatment,” a source told RFA. Following the protests, the authorities closed all main roads and restricted internet access in the area.

In Yunnan province, also on China’s southern border, the state policy of “sinicisation” of religion pursued since 2017 has led to the demolition of the minarets on 90 per cent of mosques.

The authorities demolished the dome and minarets of the historic Najiaying Mosque at Nagu town last May, provoking clashes between local residents and police. 

Now the mosque, first constructed in the fourteenth century, has been reopened after being refitted in line with the Communist Party’s policy of aligning religions to Chinese culture.

Signage outside the Najiaying Mosque now reads: “Obey the Party. Be grateful to the Party. Follow the Party”. 

Several schools linked to the mosque have been closed, and children are banned from entering the mosque.

In the Philippines, six bishops have called on the government to do more to protect fishermen from Chinese incursions into the country’s territorial waters.

The bishops – all from regions with significant fishing industries – warned that “a policy of appeasing the Chinese aggressors is worsening the situation of our poor fisherfolk”.  

They also complained that Chinese illegal fishing vessels have caused “widespread destruction of coral reefs, marine sanctuaries and the habitat of fish and sea-dwelling animals”.