Mosque sprayed with water cannon: Muslim community accepts apology

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam on Monday met with imams at the Kowloon Mosque to apologise, after police hit the place of worship with a water cannon as they battled protesters during another day of political unrest.
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam visiting the mosque in Tsim Sha Tsui yesterday to meet members of the Islamic Trust, a community group. She apologised for the inadvertent spraying of the mosque's main entrance and gate with coloured water during
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam visiting the mosque in Tsim Sha Tsui yesterday to meet members of the Islamic Trust, a community group. She apologised for the inadvertent spraying of the mosque's main entrance and gate with coloured water during a police operation.PHOTO: REUTERS

Hong Kong's leader and police yesterday apologised over the spraying of a Tsim Sha Tsui mosque with a water cannon, denying that they were targeting Muslims and other minorities, with Chief Executive Carrie Lam meeting religious and community leaders to say sorry in person.

During dispersal operations on Sunday afternoon, police fired water mixed with a blue dye and irritant - used to identify protesters - which stained the gate and entrance of the Kowloon mosque.

While officers say they were targeting a small number of protesters who were outside, video footage showed mostly peaceful protesters, a few journalists and a lawmaker.

Police said on Sunday night that the incident was an accident, with several senior officers showing up at the mosque to help clean up the dye. They repeated their apologies yesterday and denied they were targeting Muslims or minorities.

Mrs Lam and police chief Stephen Lo also visited the mosque yesterday, where she met members of the Islamic Trust, a community group. "Mrs Lam extended an apology for the inadvertent spraying of the mosque's main entrance and gate with coloured water during an operation," said a government statement released after the visit.

Trust secretary Said Uddin said the community accepted the apology, and noted that the incident was unintentional.

Police also apologised for a second time during a media conference yesterday.

"I would like to reiterate that we certainly do not have any malicious intent. We endeavour to protect the community. We once again express our sincere apologies," said Regional Commander of Kowloon West Region Cheuk Hau Yip.

But the apology has drawn criticism from some quarters, who say police, who face accusations of brutality and abuse, should in fact be apologising to others who have borne the brunt of their excessive behaviour, including journalists, protesters and passers-by caught up in clearance operations.

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam apologised to the city's Muslim community yesterday after police fired a water cannon at protesters gathered outside a major mosque, drenching its front gate and footpath with jets of blue dye, during operations on Sunday
Yesterday, people were seen scrubbing the blue-stained pavement in front of the Kowloon Masjid and Islamic Centre. Carrie Lam visited the mosque while the clean-up was under way. PHOTO: REUTERS

Police also said yesterday that demonstrators flung over 100 petrol bombs during violent protests on Sunday, when they targeted police stations, MTR stations and shops perceived to have links to mainland China. During dispersal operations, officers fired 260 rounds of tear gas, 130 rubber bullets, 20 beanbag rounds and 40 foam rounds.

 
 
 

Meanwhile, what began yesterday evening as a sit-in in Yuen Long descended into clashes between police and protesters, who built barricades on roads in the mostly rural district close to the Chinese border.

The sit-in was meant to mark three months since an attack on July 21, when a white-clad mob armed with sticks and clubs attacked commuters and protesters returning home. The men are believed to have been linked to local triads. Police also came under fierce criticism for their slow response, sparking allegations of them being in cahoots with the gangs.

Ahead of the sit-in, rail operator MTR Corporation said it would shut the station early, at 2pm. Protesters have frequently targeted MTR stations, accusing the rail operator of working with the police.

Shops in Yoho Mall, which is connected to the Yuen Long station, also shut earlier, at 5pm. By evening, many people dressed in black and wearing face masks could be seen sitting around in the mall.

 
 

The group then started building barricades around Castle Peak Road, the main thoroughfare running through the area.

As riot police moved in, many residents in the area showed up to berate the officers, accusing them of blocking the roads. After an hours-long stand-off, police fired tear gas to disperse the crowd.

The protests that arose from unhappiness over a now-suspended extradition Bill have morphed into anger against the authorities and calls for greater democracy. Many are also upset with the police, whom they accuse of using excessive force.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 22, 2019, with the headline 'Mosque sprayed with water cannon: Muslim community accepts apology'. Print Edition | Subscribe