SINGAPORE - More shock than anger or fear – that was what Singaporean student Jonathan Mok felt when he was jumped by a group of strangers in London in a coronavirus-related racist attack on Feb 24.
The 23-year-old final-year law student at the University College London opened up about his ordeal on Tuesday (March 3) on Facebook and posted two photos of himself showing a swollen eye.
“I always felt that London was one of the most open places and this incident doesn’t change the fact that most people are nice; it’s just a few (who aren’t),” Mr Mok told The Straits Times on Tuesday of the assault.
“But even with a minority of people (who engage in this behaviour), it is a very serious problem.”
The attack happened in Oxford Street, near the London Underground's Tottenham Court Road station at around 9.15pm, after he walked past a group of five young people, including a girl.
He turned around and looked at them after he heard one of them say “coronavirus”.
The man then shouted, “Don’t you dare look at me, you...” and punched him in the face twice as passers-by tried to stop the group.
Mr Mok said that another man shouted, “I don’t want your coronavirus in my country”, before punching him in the face again.
The group fled before the police arrived.
The Metropolitan Police in London told ST they are investigating a “racially aggravated assault” in which a 23- year-old man was “punched and sustained facial injuries”, referring to Mr Mok without naming him.
During the attack, Mr Mok said people in a nearby souvenir shop came out to try to defuse the situation. Since the attack, he has visited the shop to thank the people there and they provided him support and shared his sentiments about racism issues.
The Metropolitan Police said no arrest has been made, but they are currently trying to identify the suspects through inquiries and available closed-circuit television footage. They have been in touch with Mr Mok since the incident.
He was told at a hospital’s accident and emergency department that he had fractures on his face and might have to undergo reconstructive surgery.
“I thought it was important to share and start the debate,” Mr Mok said of his post, which has since garnered more than 6,400 reactions and 23,000 shares. “Race issues have been prevalent for so long and this shows how dangerous they can be... Even when they start off verbally, they can escalate to physical violence.”
On Facebook, he wrote: “Why should anyone, simply because of the colour of their skin, be subjected to abuse, in any form, verbal or physical? Why should I keep quiet when someone makes a racist remark towards me.
“Racism is not stupidity – racism is hate. Racists constantly find excuses to expound their hatred – and in this current backdrop of the coronavirus, they’ve found yet another excuse.”
The University College London said it is offering support to Mr Mok.
“We are horrified to hear about this unprovoked racially-motivated attack on a member of our community," said a spokesman on Wednesday. "We condemn racism, bullying and harassment of any kind."
Mr Mok said that the BBC and CNN contacted him for comment, while Singapore’s High Commission in London contacted him to offer support.
The Singapore High Commission said in a statement on Wednesday (March 4) that it is “deeply disturbed” the incident, the first racially-motivated incident relating to the coronavirus that it is aware of against a Singaporean in Britain.
In a post on its Facebook page, the Singapore High Commission in London said that it is working with the Metropolitan Police at the highest level to ensure investigations are followed through with the utmost priority.
It said: “We do not believe that the assault reflects the majority view of the British people in particular towards Singapore, given the close and special relationship between the UK and Singapore. There are unfortunately always abhorrent elements in every society, especially in such uncertain and anxious times.”
British High Commissioner in Singapore Kara Owen said in a tweet on Tuesday that she was “shocked and saddened by the attack”.
She added: “(There is) no place in society for such nasty behaviour.”