Authorities adopt surveillance measures, like drones, plainclothes police, and blocked mobile networks, to keep under wraps their crackdowns on the religious.
More and more reports received by Bitter Winter about the crackdowns on religious venues include information on heightened surveillance by the law enforcement to ensure that no detail of their actions is shared with the outside world. Most such organized operations against the people of faith have a few aspects in common: a significant police presence, ensuring the impenetrable blockade of the site; the control of mobile network; the use of aerial drones for reconnaissance; and the presence of plainclothes officers on the ground.
The exact same measures were used in Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region on March 31, when authorities destroyed Beida Mosque, located in Sancun village, under the jurisdiction of Xingjing town, a division of Xixia district of the region’s capital Yinchuan.
At around one o’clock that afternoon, officers from various law enforcement units, including the special police, arrived at the scene in more than 30 vehicles, excavators among them, and sealed off the mosque with police tape. Law enforcement officers were stationed every few meters, and small groups of plainclothes police also mixed in with the crowd to monitor people and stop them from taking and forwarding photos. They threatened to arrest anyone daring to protest the demolition, under the pretext of “cleaning up gang crime and eliminating evil.”
The police also assigned two officers to monitor a nearby mosque, instructing them to report back if anything unusual was detected.
More than an hour later, the nearly 30-year-old mosque that would gather approximately 400 worshipers for Friday Prayers was razed to the ground, its congregation was “merged” with another mosque – a widely used excuse by the CCP to demolish legitimate religious venues.
A person who was at the scene told Bitter Winter that he heard officers shouting on the police radio that there were people taking photos from the surrounding buildings. “Only then did I realize that drones were hovering above, monitoring the area,” the man explained.
The harsh measures by the police made it impossible for onlookers to approach the mosque or even say anything against its demolition. According to a Hui resident on the scene, people are terrified because of the ongoing suppressions by the government. ”In Xinjiang, thousands upon thousands of people have disappeared,” the man explained the reasons for people being afraid to resist the government.
Some residents reported that high-definition surveillance cameras were set up after the demolition to monitor the site.
Similar police measures were reported during the partial demolition of the mosque in Gazhuang village, under the jurisdiction of Zheqiao town in Linxia Hui Autonomous Prefecture of Gansu Province, on April 11. Under orders by the government, parts of the newly-built mosque were destroyed, triggering protests from local Muslims who clashed with law enforcement officers. As per initial reports, one elderly Muslim was arrested, five others were beaten and later treated at the hospital.
According to the newly received information from eyewitnesses, people rushed to the mosque immediately after hearing the news about the ongoing demolition. Nearly 1,000 vehicles were intercepted about eight kilometers from the mosque.
Another source said that over 100 law enforcement personnel cordoned off all the roads leading to Zheqiao Bay, and checkpoints were set up on the way to question people entering or leaving the area. Special police kept guard inside and outside the mosque around the clock. Mobile network signals were blocked, and public transportation was suspended.
When a Bitter Winter reporter asked a young Hui resident to take photos of the demolition site from his balcony the following day, he refused, clearly frightened. “The government doesn’t allow to take photos. When the incident occurred, many people were taking photos that were later posted online. Some were arrested on the spot, and other’s phones were confiscated,” explained the young man.