A blue-dyed black eye to the police

October 21, 2019 14:45
People walk past Kowloon Masjid and Islamic Centre in Tsim Sha Tsui on Monday. Photo: Reuters

If love means never having to say you're sorry, we can say the police have been giving a lot of love over the past four months.

On Sunday police deployed a water-cannon truck to disperse protesters on Nathan Road in Tsim Sha Tsui, spraying blue-dyed water at the crowd.

The dispersal operation, however, also hit the Kowloon Masjid and Islamic Centre, the largest mosque in Hong Kong.

The incident, which was reported widely in international media, bolstered accusations that the police had been indiscriminate in discharging their law enforcement duties.

Police called the incident “unintended” and “unfortunate”, stressing that the operation was targeting "rioters" who earlier had been throwing petrol bombs at the police station, setting fire at the exit of a nearby MTR station, and trashing banks and shops.

A senior police commander later went to the mosque to explain the situation to the chief imam and Muslim community leaders. However, no apology was made.

Members of the public also arrived at the compound to clean up the front gate and steps which had been stained with blue dye from the water cannon.

On Monday morning, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor and Police Commissioner Stephen Lo Wai-chung went to the mosque and met with Muslim community leaders to apologize for the incident, insisting that the spraying of the house of worship was an accident.

This was not the first time that members of the police force had been accused of disrespecting religion since the start of the protests in June.

In the early days of the movement against the now-withdrawn extradition bill, an angry police officer allegedly told a group of clerics who were trying to intervene during a protest: "Ask your Jesus to come down and see us."

And the Wong Tai Sin Temple, as well as the surrounding area, was a silent witness to many weekend clashes between police and protesters.

It was just proper that Lam and her police chief apologized for the incident. In the first place, the police did not give the people at the mosque a heads-up. It cannot be assumed that Muslim leaders in the community were following the social forum LiHKG for the latest updates on the protest.

Several journalists and bystanders were hit by the blue-dyed water jet. Among them was Mohan Chugani, former chairman of the India Association, who was injured in the incident and had to seek medical treatment.

Chugani, who is the brother of famous commentator Michael Chugani, said there were no protesters in front of the mosque when the spraying took place.

"Previously, I trusted the police," said Chugani, who had shown support to the force by joining a pro-police rally earlier in the summer. "But now no more. They just let me down."

The police need public support to enforce law and order. But incidents such as what happened at the mosque on Sunday certainly won't win people over to their side.

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EJ Insight writer