Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor and police commissioner Stephen Lo Wai-chung delivered an apology on Monday morning to the imam of the Kowloon mosque, a day after a police water-cannon sprayed blue-dyed water at the entrance and the gates during protests on Sunday.
Lam and Lo visited the Kowloon Mosque with a number of police officers for a meeting with chief imam Muhammad Arshad and other leaders of the local Muslim community.
In a government statement, Lam extended an apology for the “inadvertent spraying of the mosque’s main entrance and gate with colored water” during a police operation on Nathan Road, the main road outside the mosque.
They stayed for about 20 minutes and left without answering questions from the media.
After the brief talks, Arshad and Muslim leaders Zoheir Tyebkhan and Saeed Uddin said Lam and Lo had both apologized for the incident and had described it as a mistake, Radio Television Hong Kong reported.
It was the first time the city chief and the head of police went to religious premises to offer apologies over police operations in the past four months.
According to a statement on Sunday night, the police said they deployed a water-cannon truck to disperse “rioters” gathered on Nathan Road and it was “most unfortunate that the dispersal operation has caused an unintended impact on the Kowloon Mosque.”
But videos online show the water-cannon vehicle stopping in front of the entrance and gates of the Kowloon Islamic Center, then targeting a group of about 10 people there who were sprayed with the blue-dyed water.
The group was reportedly there, holding placards that said protesters would protect the place of worship after rumors of attacks. A few reporters were there too. No black-clad protesters were seen.
Mosque officials said after the meeting that Lam and Lo had conceded there was hardly anyone in the area at the time and there was no reason for the water cannon to be fired.
Mohan Chugani, a former chairman of the Indian Association, who was hit by blue water in front of the center, said he would not accept the apology from the chief executive even if she had called him personally earlier.
According to a phone interview with broadcasters nowTV, Chugani said he had told Lam “the police had exceeded their power,” while Lam told him that she was handling the issue.
Ghugani said he understood both Lam and the police were in a very difficult position, but the police had completed crossed a fine line.
“The police must know who is a protester and who is a resident. They have to use their brains and should not fire the water whenever they see people.”
He said he would not accept the apology. “Why did the water cannon stop at the entrance of the mosque? You go check the video. It stopped and then sprayed the water. It was deliberate, not unintended or a mistake.”
Chugani said he felt his body was on fire after being hit. His left eye was injured too. He was sent to a hospital.
The 73-year-old Indian made an appearance at a rally in July to support Hong Kong police.
But the pro-police supporter slammed the force’s action as outrageous, saying he used to believe in Hong Kong police but “they just let me down.”
Ghugani also said a group of senior officers visited the mosque on Sunday night to meet with representatives, while several officers arrived with plastic pails and rags in hand and attempted to clean up the handrails for several minutes as a PR stunt.
In fact, a number of people had helped clean the blue dye off the gates and the building’s entrance hours before the officers’ tried to help out, according to a post on the Muslim Council of Hong Kong website. The council said they were truly thankful to all the heartwarming people of Hong Kong.
Protesters had been keen to make sure that the mosque was not targeted during Sunday’s massive demonstration in Tsim Sha Tsui, over fears that it could be attacked following the beating of Civil Human Rights Front convenor Jimmy Sham last week, allegedly by several non-ethnic Chinese people.