Hong Kong’s leader has apologised over an incident where a mosque in Kowloon was doused with blue dye from a police water cannon truck.
Police were accused of targeting the Kowloon Masjid and Islamic Centre in Tsim Sha Tsui while conducting a clearance operation at around 4pm on Sunday. Eyewitnesses said that there were no protesters nearby at the time of the incident.
Videos showed the water cannon truck firing blue liquid at the mosque, as well as people in front of it – including journalists, bystanders, Civic Party lawmaker Jeremy Tam, and Muslims reportedly protecting the place of worship.
Shortly afterwards, the police released a statement saying the water cannon truck’s stream had “accidentally” hit the mosque.
Sunday saw hundreds of thousands of Hongkongers take to the streets of Kowloon to protest against the government’s anti-mask law, despite a police ban on a march. The controversial measure was implemented two weeks ago using the 1922 Emergency Regulations Ordinance in response to large-scale pro-democracy protests, now in their 20th week.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam and Police Commissioner Stephen Lo arrived to meet with community leaders at the mosque at around 11:15am on Monday. They did not speak to the media afterwards.
In a statement released at 2:44pm, a government spokesperson said Lam had apologised for the incident, saying: “The Muslim community has always seen Hong Kong as their home and made contributions to society, which treasure diversity, tolerance, inclusivity and openness, and they have always lived in harmony with other communities.”
Members of the Muslim community told reporters that they had accepted an apology from Lam over the incident.
“They sincerely apologised. It was not intentional,” said Zoheir Tyebkhan, chairman of the Incorporated Trustees of the Islamic Community Fund of Hong Kong.
“The police are well aware that we are a principled community here, we do not involve ourselves in anything. So there would be no reason for them to storm the mosque.”
Shortly after the front of the mosque was soaked on Sunday, members of the public assisted in a clean-up operation.
At around 9:40pm, police representatives arrived on the scene to give an explanation to the Imams. Officers also brought buckets with them to clean the building, but left after five minutes.
The representatives included District Commander of Yau Tsim District Ricky Ho, Police Public Relations Branch Senior Superintendent Yolanda Yu, and two non-Chinese officers Swalikh Mohammed and Gimandeep Singh.
However, the police were criticised as being disrespectful after Yu wore a short-sleeve polo shirt and did not cover her hair with a headscarf inside the mosque, in accordance with Islamic tradition.
“Does she even know the customs of the mosque?” an online commentator wrote.
Yu appeared at the mosque again on Monday in a white suit with a scarf around her neck. She did not answer any questions from reporters.
“The police highly respect places of worship as well as religious freedom, and will continue to maintain close communication with the Kowloon Mosque and the Muslim community in Hong Kong,” a statement said, though it stopped short of an apology.
‘Unjustifiable and rash’
NGO Hong Kong Unison’s Executive Director Phyllis Cheung was also hit with the blue dye outside the mosque on Sunday.
Her organisation said that she was there to encourage worshippers to go inside, remove children from the scene and close the front doors in the event of unrest outside.
“Hong Kong Unison is outraged by the police’s unjustifiable and rash action, and demands the police… explain their actions, as well as immediately apologise to all victims and the mosque,” Hong Kong Unison said in a statement.
“The police deployed water cannon unprovoked and without warning causing injuries to innocent people. The police dirtying facilities of the mosque with blue dye without cause is an act of insult against religious grounds and a disturbance of religious freedom. Hong Kong Unison strongly condemns the police for its unreasonable act and demands the police for a public apology and explanation, especially to both the victims and the Mosque.”
The Muslim Council of Hong Kong released a statement saying it understood that the mosque was not deliberately targeted.
“The police gave prior notice as it approached the area before the use of coloured water. The police then used blue water to disperse people outside the mosque, leaving the gates of the mosque stained,” it said. “It had undoubtedly stirred feelings amongst the Muslim and non-Muslims community in Hong Kong but let us not make the situation worse.”
“A few police officers have messaged Muslim brothers apologising for the unintended spray saying the mosque was not the target and it is unfortunate what unfolded, getting in touch with the Kowloon Mosque management too.”
The Council thanked Hongkongers for helping to clean the mosque afterwards.
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