Hong Kong police vandalized a mosque on Sunday by spraying it with blue liquid, a blast from an ink-tinted water cannon intended to mark protesters so they can be identified and prosecuted later.
Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam apologized for the incident on Monday, while protesters went to work cleaning up the mosque and admonished the police to respect freedom of religion.
A police vehicle was caught on video firing a stream of blue liquid at the mosque and the people standing in front of it, who included protesters, Muslims attempting to protect their mosque, and opposition lawmaker Jeremy Tam. The taint in the water cannon reportedly included both blue ink and tear gas chemicals.
Dozens of protesters arrived at the mosque on Monday to help clean up the blue stains from the entrance and the sidewalk outside and wave placards urging Hong Kong authorities to honor religious freedom.
“This is an insult and provocation towards the Muslim community. The Basic Law protects all religions. Do they know how to respect religion? I‘m a Hongkonger; I can assure you it is the police initiating violence, not protesters,” complained businessman and aspiring politician Philip Khan, one of the people hit by the water cannon outside the mosque.
Khan said the police were “intentionally targeting” the mosque and the people standing in front of it when they opened fire. “Would they fire this kind of stuff at a government house?” he asked.
“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,” said non-governmental organization Hong Kong Unison, which denounced the use of the water cannon as “unreasonable.”
“It is totally unnecessary to disperse the crowd by using water cannon. However, the police officers did not consider the circumstance as well as the dignity of the place of religious worship,” said the Civil Human Rights Front, a pro-democracy group that has organized many protest rallies.
Some of the most cynical critics suggested the police deliberately targeted the mosque as a warning to Hong Kong’s ethnic minority communities not to support the protest movement, as some of them have reportedly done by giving bottled water to demonstrators.
The police said it was “most unfortunate” the “dispersal operation” damaged the mosque and insisted the vandalism was a mistake, although eyewitnesses said the water cannon was clearly targeted at the small group of people standing right outside the entrance, not the larger mass of protesters filling the street.
The protesters were plainly trying to make common cause with Southeast Asian Muslims, who have good reason to worry about the way China treats Muslims, and are somewhat nervous in Hong Kong after allegations that activist leader Jimmy Sham was viciously beaten by paid Southeast Asian thugs. (Sham himself has said he could not perceive the ethnicity of his attackers).
Carrie Lam met with community leaders on Monday and apologized for the water cannon incident, an apology that was evidently accepted, although Muslim Hong Kongers on the street were described as shocked and angered by the defacement of the mosque.
“They sincerely apologized. It was not intentional,” said Incorporated Trustees of the Islamic Community Fund of Hong Kong Chairman Zoheir Tyebkhan.
“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,” Tyebkhan added.
“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,” the Muslim Council of Hong Kong said in a statement.
“It had undoubtedly stirred feelings among the Muslim and non-Muslims community in Hong Kong but let us not make the situation worse,” the council advised.
Sunday saw hundreds of thousands of people take to the streets of Hong Kong despite police orders. There was more vandalism and tossing of Molotov cocktails by protesters, and more tear gas and other crowd control weapons were deployed by the police. Many of the protesters wore masks in defiance of an executive order making them illegal. Numerous water cannon trucks were seen.
“They don’t have the power to limit my breathing, my right to walk on the street. This is my freedom. I am just one person. It is my responsibility to be here,” said a 55-year-old retiree marching with the protesters.
Communist China’s state-run Global Times on Monday accused the protest movement of blowing the mosque vandalism incident out of proportion in an effort to “drag religion and race into their month-long protests.”
The Global Times threw in exactly the kind of oblique warning to Hong Kong minorities that the cynics are worried about, instructing those communities to blame the protesters for any collateral damage they might suffer and keep their distance from the rallies if they know what’s good for them. According to the report:
Ethnic minority groups in Hong Kong are on alert, after some South Asians were accused of being behind a bloody assault on Jimmy Sham Tsz-kit, convener of the secessionist Civil Human Rights Front, on Wednesday.
Protesters using social media networks such as Telegram and LIHKG, which are widely used by protesters in organizing and mobilizing anti-government protests in the past four months, have called for action targeting Chungking Mansions in Tsim Sha Tsui, a commercial and social hub for underprivileged South Asians and Africans. They also suggested firebombing the Kowloon Mosque.
This prompted some South Asians living in Hong Kong to give out bottles of water and other supplies to protesters outside Chungking Mansions on Sunday morning, in an apparent move to placate protesters so that they would not be attacked.
The Global Times praised Hong Kong police for acting with exceptional “restraint” compared to riot police in places like Spain and Chile and suggested only disingenuous rabble-rousers would fail to accept the apology offered by police to the mosque.