Hong Kong officials yesterday apologized to Muslim leaders after riot police on Sunday sprayed a mosque and bystanders with a water cannon loaded with a blue liquid while trying to contain pro-democracy demonstrations.
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam (林鄭月娥) and the police chief visited the Kowloon Masjid and Islamic Centre to apologize to the chief imam and Muslim community leaders.
Officials were scrambling to minimize the fallout from the incident at one of the territory’s most well-known religious sites.
The government said in a statement that Lam “extended an apology for the inadvertent spraying.”
Authorities called it an accident, but a bystander’s account disputed that.
Muslim leaders told reporters they accepted the apology.
“Our mosque is not damaged, nothing is done wrong. Only thing is that they should have not done it. For that they apologized so we accept it,” said Saeed Uddin, honorary secretary of the Islamic Community Fund of Hong Kong.
Police also apologized later at a daily news briefing and said they had been contacting Muslim community leaders.
“To any people or any groups that were affected, we offer our genuine apologies,” Kowloon West regional commander Cheuk Hau-yip (卓孝業) said. “We certainly do not have any malicious intent.”
It was a rare case of authorities apologizing for how they have handled the protest movement, which erupted in early June and expanded to include demands for police accountability and political reforms.
Protesters seized on it as the latest example of what they call unnecessarily harsh police tactics.
During Sunday’s protest, a police water cannon truck that was passing by the mosque sprayed a stinging blue-dyed liquid at a handful of people standing in front of the mosque’s gate, according to video of the incident by pro-democracy Hong Kong Legislator Jeremy Tam (譚文豪).
The mosque’s front steps, metal gate and the sidewalk outside were stained with the blue liquid while people caught in the plume were left gagging, coughing and trying to rinse the solution from their eyes, the video shows.
Volunteers later arrived to help clean up the mosque, and by yesterday morning the blue coating was largely gone.
Mohan Chugani, a businessman and former president of Hong Kong’s Indian Association, said he was passing by the mosque and stopped to chat with someone when he was hit by the cannon.
Chugani, who is not Muslim, said there were no protesters around when the water cannon and an armored car rolled up, so he thought nothing of it.
Then he noticed a periscope on the cannon focusing on him and before he knew it, the cannon fired.
“I was shocked,” Chugani, 73, said. “The second round became much more powerful. I couldn’t open my eyes, and it was like my whole body was on fire.”
Chugani, whose left eye remained swollen shut, said officials reached out to apologize.
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