Prostitution fears spark riot in Muslim enclave

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 05 October, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 05 October, 2010, 12:00am

Thousands of members of the Hui ethnic minority in Linxia , Gansu , smashed a newly opened clubhouse in a Muslim community near a mosque late last month because they believed it would be a venue for prostitution.

The Hong Kong-based Information Centre for Human Rights and Democracy said several thousand residents stormed into the clubhouse - which also housed a karaoke lounge, bathhouse and nightclub - after 10pm on September 21, just a few hours after it had opened for the first time.

The Hui residents smashed just about everything they could reach, it said. About 10 people were injured when they clashed with security guards hired by the clubhouse.

The rights watchdog said up to 30 local Islamic leaders, some of them in their 70s, were arrested at the weekend - more than a week after the clash - for allegedly masterminding the riot. The report added that the clubhouse was large enough to accommodate up to 1,000 customers and was run by relatives of a leading figure in the Linxia prefectural administration. A strong political background usually means the owners of such entertainment venues can simply ignore local opposition.

Dubbed the 'Chinese Mecca' since the middle of the Ming dynasty, Linxia is an autonomous prefecture for the Muslim Hui ethnic minority and boasts a long history of Islamic culture. Located on the upper reaches of the Yellow River, Linxia had a population of about 2 million by the end of last year, about 600,000 of whom were Hui.

Residents complained that the services provided by the clubhouse violated Muslim social mores and were also upset by the loud music coming from the clubhouse, and the prospect that it might continue late into the night.

Bai Zhiliang , a Hui staff member at an orphanage on the same street, said yesterday that the boss of the nightclub was well known to every resident, adding: 'They dare do every dirty thing inside.'

He said special service - a common euphemism for prostitution on the mainland - was believed to have been provided by the nightclub, making it different from two other karaoke venues on the same street which simply offered singing and dancing. Bai said another reason for the residents' anger could have been that the clubhouse was only about 500 metres from a mosque. More than 100 households living in the same building, above the nightclub, had also been concerned about the likelihood of loud music being played well past midnight.

A woman working in a nearby pharmacy said the case was a bit 'complicated and chaotic' but 'many people said there are female hostesses within the venue'.

She said local Islamic leaders had approached and tried to talk to the owner of the business, also an ethnic Hui, to give it up but their efforts had ended in failure. Prostitution is strictly taboo for Muslims.