It all started after a mosque in China was marked for demolition by Chinese authorities. This sparked protest in the northwest region of the country.

But a newspaper of the ruling Communist Party said Saturday that no religion is above the law in China, while urging officials to stay firm while dealing with the rare protest over the planned demolition.

The Global Times said that local officials in the town of Weizhou in Ningxia, a region that’s home to many ethnic minority Hui Muslims, must act against what it described as an illegal expansion of a religious building.

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Thousands of Hui people gathered at the towering Grand Mosque on Thursday and Friday to prevent authorities from demolishing the structure, residents contacted by The Associated Press said.

It was a rare, public pushback to the party’s efforts to rewrite how religions are practiced in the country.

“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 Communist Party, writes Washington Post.

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, noted the paper.

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