Police say water cannon vehicle deployed to protect mosque

October 22, 2019 15:50
Chief Executive Carrie Lam, accompanied by Police Commissioner Stephen Lo (not in the picture), pays a visit to the Kowloon Mosque in Tsim Sha Tsui on Monday to offer apologies for the water-cannon incident. Photo: AFP

Police reiterated that the spraying of blue dye at the mosque in Tsim Sha Tsui on Sunday was an unfortunate accident, and that the real intention of the operation was to protect the compound from radical protesters who were engaged in vandalism in the area.

During a police operation aimed at dispersing anti-government protesters participating in a banned march in Kowloon on Sunday, a specialized crowd management vehicle equipped with water cannon fired water jets at around 4:30 p.m. outside the Kowloon Masjid and Islamic Centre in Tsim Sha Tsui.

The water jets hit about a dozen people at the scene, including journalists and bystanders, but also doused the main entrance and stairs of the mosque with blue dye.

On Monday morning, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, accompanied by Police Commissioner Stephen Lo Wai-chung, paid a visit to the Kowloon Masjid and Islamic Centre on Nathan Road, the biggest mosque in Hong Kong, to meet with leaders of the local Muslim community and offer apologies for the incident.

A representative of the Incorporated Trustees of The Islamic Community Fund of Hong Kong said Lam and Lo sincerely apologized and the mosque accepted their apologies.

In a press release issued on Monday afternoon, police again “offered apologies for the impact arising from the operation”.

It said rioters “extensively set fire and vandalized in multiple locations, seriously endangering public safety. In response to the situation, police deployed a Specialised Crowd Management Vehicle to disperse the rioters in the vicinity of Nathan Road. During the operation, colored water was accidentally sprayed at the Kowloon Mosque.”

Police Senior Superintendent (Operations) Wong Wai-shun later told a daily press briefing that the police had no alternative at the time but to deploy the water-cannon truck to disperse the protesters. 

Superintendent Mohammed Swalikh of the police’s Cyber Security and Technology Crime Bureau said the purpose of the police operation was to disperse "dangerous protesters" as police had received information that some people intended to damage the mosque.

He did not say why the protesters would try to attack the mosque.

Swalikh also said police had apologized sincerely for the incident, and the force would not intentionally target any religious buildings.

"The objective was very clear, and that was to do the dispersal and also to protect the mosque,"  said Mohammed, who is of Pakistani descent.

In several posts on its Facebook account on Monday, the Muslim Council of Hong Kong said it understands that the police did not intentionally target the mosque, calling the incident just an accident.

While the incident caused a stir among Muslims in the city, the council said, it wanted to thank members of the local community who came afterwards to help clean up the mosque.

‪In its Facebook post on Tuesday morning, the Muslim Council uploaded a press release by the Islamic Trustees of Hong Kong regarding the visit of the chief executive and police officials to apologize for Sunday's incident, saying the council accepts the apology, hoping "such productive dialogue, compassion and understanding can be achieved for all matters".

Mohan Chugani, a former chairman of the Indian Association who was among those sprayed with the blue dye during the dispersal operation, said he would not accept any apologies from the police.

He said Lam called him on Monday morning and offered her apology, adding that he needed further medical treatment for the injuries inflicted by the water jets.

Chugani told a radio program on Tuesday morning that Deputy Commissioner Chris Tang Ping-keung had also called him on Monday to offer apologies.

He said he accepts, in principle, the apologies from the chief executive and Tang, but cannot accept the police explanation in the briefing on Monday.

The police have to clarify that the people outside the mosque on Sunday were not protesters, Chugani added.

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